Essay about the War in Ukraine - Part I How did it get this far?
On February 24, 2022, Russian troops invaded Ukraine. Few had predicted this and we too thought it would be limited to military support for the rebellious pro-Russian regions and the land connection to the previously annexed Crimean peninsula.
This contribution is not about the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022. All we want to write about today is that there is no good reason to justify the political objective (regime change) and the barbarity of this military invasion.
In this essay we try to find out the causes. How could it get this far? Whether this war was avoidable. Whether there were agreements that were not kept and whether there was incitement by third parties. But also (and above all) to gain insight into the complexity of the situation in Ukraine itself and the inability of the Russian Federation to arrive at a domestic and foreign policy that does away with a mind-numbing communist ideology and a dictatorial leadership.
Part I The Past
When does the history begin?
Although Ukraine only became independent in 1991, we need to go much further back in time to understand the situation in Ukraine today. Their cultural roots go back to the late 10th century – early 11th century with the Kievan Rus Empire.
Kievan Rus at the end of the 10th century
Then follow the incessant shifts of national borders and power in Europe, as shown by this interactive map. A photo of the situation in 1703 shows that Ukraine was then part of the Ottoman Empire, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Russia and the Crimea.
Rise of Ukrainian Nationalism
To understand the great resilience of the current Ukrainian population, we must go back to the historical roots of Ukrainian nationalism.
World War I
After a short period of independence and then annexed back to the Soviet Union, the aftermath of WW I was very important for Ukraine. It is the period when Poland and Ukraine fought a war (1918/1919) in which Poland once again occupied Galicia (part of Ukraine) as the winner.
After the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921), Ukraine was divided among the Soviet Union (Bolshevik Ukraine), Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia.
In 1929 the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) is founded. Their goal is the establishment of an independent ethnically homogeneous Ukraine.
“The widespread persecution of Ukrainians by the Polish rulers created a large following for the nationalists, which grew into an influential organization with 20,000 members and a multitude of sympathizers: “To give an idea of the level of support in Western Ukraine at the time for a “pure Ukrainian race”, the SS Galician division recruited 80,000 Galician volunteers in a month and a half.”
Between WW I and II
The economic collectivization throughout the Soviet Union by Stalin led to a famine in Ukraine – HOLODOMOR, just as it did in Kazakhstan. In Wikipedia we read “The famine was largely caused by the policies of the government of the Soviet Union under Stalin, which vigorously carried out the collectivization and "dekulakization" of agriculture.” Another reason is mentioned: “This was met with great resistance from the peasants, especially those in Ukraine with their tradition of freedom. They hid their grain and slaughtered their livestock rather than deliver it to the state farms.”
Another source wrote the following comment:
“But the great Volga-Don area, there was also collectivization, there the ancestors of my German-Russian friends (as settlers) were also expelled and put on the train to Siberia. So labeling this as anti-Ukrainian is unhistorical.”
All these interpretations cannot disguise the truth:
The holodomor was dramatic proof of the failing collectivism and regardless of shared responsibilities it was a crime against humanity
World War II
When Germany invaded Ukraine, Western Ukraine welcomed them as their saviors, while other parts of Ukraine fought alongside the "Red Army" against Nazi Germany. In Ukraine, the nationalists will kill both Jews and Poles in great numbers. This "Nazi" organization differs little in deeds from German Nazism under Hitler. A lot has been written about this, including in this article.
Image left: Stefan Bandera. Image right: Mykola Lebed
The Cold War
Not unimportant for the sequel, this article also mentions the role of one of the two OUN leaders, Mykola Lebed - responsible for numerous war crimes - who could become a US citizen at the urging of the CIA. He became an important American spy/pawn during the Cold War. After all, Ukraine, like Turkey, was important for the anti-Russian “containment policy” of the US/NATO.
Above image is the original document of the Dulles letter to Mackey on behalf of Mykola Lebed.
A quote from the aforementioned article: “Once in the United States, Lebed was selected as the CIA's chief contact/advisor for AERODYNAMIC.
Breitman and Goda write (19): “The first phase of AERODYNAMIC involved infiltration into Ukraine and then exfiltration of CIA-trained Ukrainian agents. By January 1950, the CIA's Office of Special Operations (OSO) and its Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) were participating [author's note: The Allen Dulles rogue faction of the CIA]... Washington was especially pleased with the high level of UPA training in Ukraine and the potential for further guerrilla action, as well as "the extraordinary news that ... actively resisting the Soviet regime is steadily moving east." expanded, from the former Polish, Greek Catholic provinces ... [However] In 1954 Lebed's group lost all contact with UHVR. By this time, the Soviets had subdued both the UHVR (Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council) and the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army), and the CIA ended the aggressive phase of AERODYNAMIC.”
For a good understanding:
The fact that we cover nationalism so extensively here is a compensation for the 'deficits' in the Western media. However, this should not give the impression that Ukrainian nationalists are still the dominant factor in Ukrainian society today. Both undervaluing and overvaluing are wrong.
The unification of Germany
Then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was sympathetic to the reunification of Germany. And from the memoranda that have been drafted on the talks, it is clear that the US played a major role in this. Below is an excerpt from a declassified memorandum from the National Security Archive archive. (It is strongly recommended not to read just this excerpt.)
Earlier that day, Baker had also given Russian Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze a guarantee not to expand NATO eastward.
This is what Baker said to Gorbachev:
This message from the US Secretary of State is noteworthy:
He clearly states that there are two solutions: a reunited Germany as a NATO member, promising that there will be no expansion of NATO to the East. In other words, a reunited Germany that is not part of NATO, and which could eventually evolve into a strong state with a nuclear capability.
One does not have to be a diplomat to realize that the Americans are making it clear that they still want to keep NATO's three objectives:
TO KEEP THE RUSSIANS OUT, THE AMERICANS IN and
THE GERMANS DOWN'.
And so it happened.
Putin and the Old Soviet Empire
Harry van der Horst, a former Military Attaché in Moscow, wrote an interesting contribution (2016) about this for Dwarsliggers.eu.
He is talking about the Western glasses with which the media and politicians look at Russia. Recommended reading for those who want more insight into Putin's Russia.
In a three-part series on “Russia after the Wall” that he wrote for the Dutch Officers' Association, we read the following about Putin's vision of the lost Soviet Union:
When President Putin once spoke in a Kremlin speech in 2005 about "the collapse of the Soviet Union [as] the greatest political disaster of the twentieth century," it was this displacement he was referring to. As often happens when quoting the Russian president, his words are repeated endlessly without context, as proof that he wants to restore the former Soviet Union. That he also stated in an official speech that "those who do not regret the collapse of the Soviet Union have no heart and those who do regret it have no brains" is conveniently forgotten.”
I remember very well how much my Polish, Czech and Hungarian defense attaché colleagues in Vienna hoped for membership. Rightly so, without a doubt, because the Warsaw Pact was not directly a democratically elected military cooperation.
Although the Iron Curtain disappeared and the EU later expanded to the East, it was clear that the US and Russia would continue to approach each other as an 'enemy'.
Ukraine from brotherly people to reprehensible ‘neo-Nazis’ (dixit Putin)
How is it possible that in 1954 Ukraine received Crimea as a gift from Khrushchev and Putin re-annexed the peninsula in 2014?
This question is hardly asked in our media and neo-Nazis are only mentioned in passing, as in this extensive article 'The phantom pain called Ukraine', written by Marc Reynebeau in De Standaard. Although he is known as a fervent opponent of the extreme right, he limits himself to this paragraph about the phenomenon in Ukraine:
“An anti-Polish resentment had long been rampant in western Ukraine, which had laid the foundations for far-right nationalism in the interwar period. It had direct offshoots in World War II in significant Ukrainian collaboration with Nazi Germany. Figurehead Stepan Bandera would acquire a hero status in the new Ukraine, including street names and statues, because of his nationalism, which was mainly interpreted as anti-Soviet. That's what they thought in eastern Ukraine too, but because of the Holodomor. Which now provides Putin with the argument that he urgently needs to crush neo-Nazis with his war.”
Reynebeau also talks about Russian interference: “With his agitation among separatists in eastern Ukraine, Putin tried a divide-and-rule policy to bring the regime in Kiev back into line. What he has achieved is quite the opposite. Because that has also resulted in nothing but war for the Russian-speaking people there in the Donets basin for eight years.”
Its selectivity raises questions.
Why does he ignore neo-Nazi leader Mikola Lebed's role as a US agent during the Cold War?
Why not a word about US interference including pressure on Ukraine to choose NATO?
We received quite a bit of information about the latter:
“Former NL ambassador Ron Keller (Chef de Poste Kiev 2005-2009, CdP Moscow 2009-2013) was also NATO ambassador in Kiev. He already wrote about that time in 2019:
“We simply forced NATO on Ukraine. There was no real desire to join the NATO organization there.”
This statement is in stark contrast to the reporting in the pro-Western media that the Ukrainian people chose (for NATO) and not a corrupt elite that sucks their country - one of the potentially richest countries in Europe - and lets the population live in miserable conditions.
“Netherland was also asked in 2006 to prepare Ukraine for NATO. Ultimately, the NL offer was not accepted by Kiev, because the Americans had already reported with a multitude of people and (financial) resources. So then the NATO fãhig of the Ukrainian armed forces has already started, under tight US leadership. It does not seem to me indecent to assume that the American military-industrial interest was, as usual, at least as great as the geopolitical and ideological interest. (…) That in 2014 alone the Americans invested 5 billion US dollars in influencing the political situation in Ukraine according to American wishes.”
Regime change in Ukraine
When we wrote at the outset that regime change is unacceptable as a Russian objective, this also applies to other states. In a previous contribution Ukraine is the plaything of oligarchs, we discussed in detail the complexity of the country.
We write November 2013
On Wikipedia we read this: In November 2013, then-President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. Pro-Western "Euromaidan protests" then began, leading to the resignation of Yanukovych in February 2014. Russia subsequently annexed the strategic Crimean peninsula and supported the pro-Russian separatists in the war in eastern Ukraine. This ongoing battle escalated on February 24, 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine from various sides and started a full-scale war of aggression.
This description of the events is incomplete and an example of self-censorship.
When Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the agreement, he remained within his powers, but nevertheless his decision was undemocratic. We don't know what Putin thought about this, but EU membership was never an obstacle. We recall Austria, which committed itself in 1955 not to join NATO but did join the EU. Putin's concern was undoubtedly the aforementioned subversive US interference and support for this regime change.
The reasons why Putin supported the Eastern territories in their autonomy and annexed Crimea is also ignored here. The fact that the new regime was one of the first decisions to remove Russian as the official language (23 Feb 2014) is not included here.
OSCE observers were unable to establish a significant presence of Russian military personnel during this period, while Western media did see it?
But there is much more.
The Treaty of Budapest
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990, 'Ukraine' became an independent country from a province in the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia agreed. Russia did demand a buffer zone between the NATO/EU and Russia. The buffer zone was Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. In addition, there were major economic interests among themselves and many Russians lived in Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The newly independent Ukraine also wanted good guarantees for peace and security. Therefore, in 1994 the “Budapest Treaty” was signed by Russia, Great Britain and the USA, with the separate consent of China and France (all nuclear powers).
Provisions (among others):
- No military influence from the West in Ukraine
- And verbatim “Resisting economic pressure on Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine with the aim of influencing these politics”
- The most important agreement was undoubtedly the transfer of Soviet nuclear weapons in Ukraine to Russia in exchange for the protection of Ukrainian territory.
That is also why the Russian-speaking Donbas region in 2014 did not demand independence but autonomy within the Ukrainian state.
The annexation of Crimea can therefore be discussed.
However, today the situation has changed to such an extent due to the civil war followed by the Russian invasion that only new negotiations on the territorial integrity of Ukraine can offer a solution. Autonomy within a Ukrainian federal structure would undoubtedly enhance the chances of a lasting peace. But will Ukraine accept the other provisions?
What has happened since then is a clear violation of the agreements with Russia.
The Frozen Civil War
The unilateral “self-determination” or “autonomy” (самостоятельность) of the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts was a response to their deprivation as second-class citizens. One can be scornful about that, but remember that the new government in Kiev became increasingly hostile to everything Russian. Or as a young woman in eastern Ukraine featured on Canvas said, “They hate us because we're Russians.” There's a name for who makes others second-class citizens.
“This decision provoked a storm among the Russian-speaking population which was met with repression in the Russian-speaking regions (Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov, Lugansk and Donetsk as of February 2014) and led to the military build-up and some 'horrific massacres' of the Russian population (especially in Odessa and Mariupol).”
Before long, Ukrainian soldiers and paramilitary militias under the command of the Interior began a siege against the rebellious republics:
“Hal Freeman reported that in the eight years from 2014 to 2022, 14,000 died in the Donbas region as a result of actions by Ukrainian pro-government (para)militaries.”
And from the beginning, they were supported by US counselors:
“CIA paramilitaries have been training Ukrainian troops on the frontlines of the Donbas War against Russia-backed separatists since 2014 and were only withdrawn by the Biden administration last month, Yahoo News reported Wednesday, citing former US officials. As part of the training, CIA paramilitaries taught Ukrainian armed forces sniper techniques, how to operate US-supplied Javelin anti-tank missiles, and how to avoid being tracked on the battlefield by using covert communications and other means.”
In order to end this civil war that lasted for eight long years, several diplomatic initiatives (Minks I and Minsk II) were taken to reach a truce. We read about this, among other things:
“But just after the signing of the Minsk 1 agreements, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko launched a massive "anti-terrorist operation" (ATO/Антитерористична операція) against the Donbass. Badly advised by NATO officers, the Ukrainians suffered a crushing defeat in Debaltsevo, forcing them to join the Minsk 2 Accords.
It is essential to recall that the Minsk 1 (September 2014) and Minsk 2 (February 2015) agreements did not provide for the separation or independence of the republics, but for their autonomy within the framework of Ukraine. Those who have read the agreements (there are very few) will note that it is written that the status of the republics was to be negotiated between Kiev and the representatives of the republics, for an internal solution within Ukraine.”
Also important to clarify the role of the US:
According to the information we received, by the end of 2021 Ukraine - on the recommendation of US advisers - would have started again to prepare for a major military attack to end this "frozen civil war" and bring the insurgent oblasts back under Ukrainian rule. Sufficient reason for Putin to respond?
For eight years the inhabitants of these oblasts lived under the varying bombardments and brutal attacks of Ukrainian military and paramilitary units, about which the Western media remained so discreet.
For eight years, thousands of civilians were terrorized, children denied a normal education, all because they did not want to be second-class citizens.
Press freedom in Ukraine?
It is not only the abolition of Russian as an official language on February 23, 2014. Russian books were also banned.
The Guardian, published an article on 19 Jan 2018 entitled Stalingrad author Antony Beevor speaks out about Ukraine book ban.
In summary, the new Ukrainian government banned Russian books when they contain negative information about Ukraine. A 'committee' was set up to judge this.
Leading British historian Antony Beevor has described a Ukrainian ban on his winning book 'Stalingrad' as "utterly outrageous".
This bestselling story, winner of the 1999 Samuel Johnson Prize, tells of the battle for the Russian city during World War II. A Russian translation was one of 25 titles included on a banned list issued by Ukrainian authorities last week, alongside books by authors including Boris Akunin and Boris Sokolov.” (…) Serhiy Oliyinyk, head of the licensing and distribution control division of the Ukrainian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Committee, told Radio Free Europe (RFE) that the ban was imposed because of a passage describing how 90 Jewish children were shot by Ukrainians militias. It's a provocation, he told RFE. When we checked the sources he used, we found reports from the (Russian) People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs. It was enough to discuss the matter in the board of experts and we are pleased that they have supported us.”
But Beevor said the source was not an internal Soviet document, but a book by German anti-Nazi officer Helmuth Groscurth. The book is listed as a source in Stalingrad, and the quotes attributed to Groscurth are taken from it. Beevor pointed to a harrowing but corroborating description of the incident in the first-hand collection of memories 'The Good Old Days: The Holocaust' as seen by the perpetrators and bystanders.”
Ukraine is the country where the Russian language was removed as an official language and where Russian books are banned.
War propaganda, a threat to our society
With the article 'The widening gap between my two worlds' by Hal Freeman an American expat in Russia, we conclude part I of our essay on War in Europe - Ukraine.
The war threatens to continue for a long time. The wounds left will make peaceful coexistence impossible for much longer. That was the lesson we learned after the Balkan war.
One of the main reasons for this is the irresponsible handling of the facts by the media. That is not only the case for the Russian media but also for the Western media.
We therefore attach great importance to sources that are familiar with the situation 'in the field', sources that know because they live and work there. Their testimonies are sometimes very different from those of our ‘red plush’ specialists and war correspondents reporting from their hotel room. Exceptions such as the nuanced comments by VRT-Russia expert, Jan Balliauw, are a real relief amid all the emo images.
Hal Freeman, an American living in a small Russian village of Luga, begins his article as follows:
“The different perspectives on what is really happening in Ukraine are growing further and further apart. They are not minor disagreements over a few details. You can watch a report from the mainstream media in America and compare it to reports from Patrick Lancaster in Mariupol or Eva Karene Bartlett in Donetsk, and you feel like they're not even talking about the same war. One journalist, whose name I don't remember, said he felt like he was in between two parallel universes when it came to how people understand the situation. It was a strange way of describing things, but I understood what he meant.
And it's not just because people see the conflict differently. There is also an increasing lack of tolerance towards other perspectives. Since I started writing my blogs almost 6 years ago, I've had people disagree with me and each other in comments, but I've never seen it as filthy as it is now. Nevertheless, I will continue to give my own interpretation of the situation as it develops based on what I see here and what I hear from sources I trust.”
Another correspondent also familiar with the situation on the ground wrote:
“I can identify with the author's heartfelt cry. No better information than that from people on the ground, and everything I read that falls under that heading deviates from the over-simplistic American view that the West and Zelensky are "good" and Putin "bad." (…) By the way, I found it spicy to read that the author refers to Scott Ritter's critique. I was in Iraq with him in 1996, on behalf of the UN. At the time, he was still enthusiastically promoting American foreign policy, later becoming one of its harshest critics.
Let's remember that in time of war the truth is always violated by all parties involved. That is why we must also take all testimonies seriously. Beware of fact-checkers who self-censor or are forced to participate uncritically in war propaganda.
Colonel ret. Pierre Therie
Former Defense Attaché in Vienna with accreditations for Austria, Switzerland, Croatia and Slovenia.