In SpectatorWorld, Norman Davies explains the complex history of Ukraine and its relationship to Russia. Davies explains that, despite Russian counterclaims, Ukraine’s East is not natively Russian. He writes in conclusion:
In Ukraine’s West, the south-west corner – connected to the interior by another great river, the Dniester – abuts the Balkans. Romania looms along the coast, landlocked Moldova some two hours’ ride inland. The breakaway strip of Transnistria, controlled by the remnants of a stranded Soviet army, is hoping for a rescue from Putin’s men. Yet the nearby port city of Odessa, founded in 1801 to service the products of New Russia, is dominant.
Throughout the nineteenth century, as described in Neal Ascherson’s wonderful book. Black Sea, it was a vibrant, multinational, multicultural metropolis, where Poles, Jews from the Pale, Greeks, Romanians, Ukrainians and Russians met and mingled.
Ukraine’s mountainous far West, in Carpatho-Ukraine, was an area where the borders of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland once converged. It now boasts several popular ski-resorts and an exit route for refugees.
The present north-west region of Ukraine has been most heavily influenced by Polish rule and civilisation, which lasted there for more centuries than Russia’s did; it is regarded as the bastion of modern Ukrainian nationalism. The city of Lviv, formerly Lwów, was a predominantly Polish and Jewish metropolis from 1349 to the deportations and ‘repatriations’ of 1945-6. Once the capital of Austro-Hungarian Galicia, it was briefly in 1919 the centre of a ‘West Ukrainian Republic’ and the scene of Polish-Ukrainian conflicts, from which Russia was the sole beneficiary.
Ukraine’s south consists entirely of the Crimean peninsula and of the coastlands that face it. Annexed by stealth and subterfuge in 1783, as again in 2014, it is no more Russian in origin than anywhere else. Crimea was the homeland of the Muslim Crimean Tatars, who were dispossessed by Catherine the Great and deported en masse by Stalin. It was duly transformed into a militarised district supporting the naval base of Sevastopol, home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet, which, during the Crimean War of 1853-6 became the target for allied intervention. One hundred and sixty years on, the imported Russian military still forms the core of the peninsula’s population, like the Americans of Diego Garcia. The Ukrainians never held a close connection to Crimea or to its adjacent coastlands until 1954, when, to pacify anti-Russian rumbling and to celebrate the tercentenary of Khmielnytski’s Rising, Soviet Ukraine was handed the peninsula as a pre-wrapped gift. Today, Ukrainians think of it as theirs.
It is difficult to imagine, short of reviving Stalin’s methods, how any of these historical faits accomplis can be reversed.
Yet Putin and other Russian nationalists (like the recently newsworthy Alexander Dugin) have been deluding themselves by thinking that a large and natural pro-Russian constituency awaits them in Ukraine. Several groups of Moscowphiles do indeed control pockets including the Donbass, Crimea or Transnistria. But they are overshadowed ten times over by far larger regions and districts, which Putin cannot possibly occupy and whose inhabitants, whether they speak Russian or not, see no joy in Moscow’s embrace. Prior to 2014, a substantial element among Ukraine’s citizens wavered in their identity. But Putin’s savage war has put an end to their wavering. Just as the invasion has resulted in further extensions to Nato, so it has equally put granite into Ukrainian resolve, which in the long run will be a vital factor in the outcome. Putin would not be the first adventurer whose canoe came to grief on the rapids.
Read more here.
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