Figuring Out the Ukraine – Russia Conflict.

1. Kiev (Kyiv) – From the Capital of Russia to the Capital of Ukraine. Super short historical reference.
2. What’s This Conflict About? Three Ingredients.
Geopolitical Economy
Political Prestige
3. How Scary are the Sanctions?
4. Do Russians and Ukrainians hate each other?

I understand how hard it might be to navigate the hot kitchen of the events taking place in Ukraine today, especially if all cooks are limited in their choice of ingredients provided by the media’s pantry.

If I can help at least one of you, my readers, to get a better idea about what has been happening I will consider my mission complete.

1. Kiev (Kyiv) – From the Capital of Russia to the Capital of Ukraine. Super short historical reference.

Kievskaya Russia reached its peak by the middle of the XI century, under Prince Yaroslav the Wise.

The state became whole within 2 centuries with the main fastening elements being the unity of the language (Old Russian Slavic), faith, general way of life, – all under the ruling dynasty of Rurikoviches.

Yaroslav’s Russia had certain territorial boundaries (from the Black to the White Sea) and included in addition to many Slavic tribes, the peoples of non-Slavic origin.

On his deathbed, Yaroslav the Wise divided the state between his five sons and they began acting as governors with their own views of the task. The endless civil strifes began shortly in all five regions.

This was not yet the final collapse of Russia, but less than 50 years later, in 1097, The Congress of Princes gathered in Lyubech with the purpose to end civil strife and unite the princes to protect themselves from the Polovtsians.

The Congress ended with the decision for each Prince to rule on their land. Less than 50 years later again, in the middle of the 12th century, the chronicler writes “the whole Russian land was torn to pieces.” It is important to note that the same tendencies were common in all large states all over Europe.

As a result, Kyiv lost its former strength and power as the population fled the civil strife and the raids by outside tribes. Though it continued to serve as a Capital and presented the reason for discord between the Princes.

At the same time a new State, Lithuania was born northwest of Russian principalities and was gaining strength very fast. The elite of Lithuania had Lithuanian-Russian roots and maintained family connections with the Russian elite through marriages.

At first, Lithuania professed Orthodoxy but in the middle of the XIII century in exchange for the recognition of the Western world, Lithuania accepts Catholicism.

XIII century was the toughest for Russian survival. The Mongol Empire’s hordes roll through the land for the next 100 years, destroying the towns and villages.  One of those destroyed was Kyiv.

The Empire’s invasion spared Lithuania which was only gaining strength through the time and slowly expanded to the weakened by the Mongolian Invasion Russian land.

By the XV century, the country became a strong multi-ethnic state, which included many Russian cities. So, it does not come as a surprise that the population of this Western part of Russia identified themselves as Russians. All commercial and government paperwork was in Western Russian, with the population speaking the language and practicing the Christian Orthodox faith.

In 1569 under the pressure of Poland, and according to the decision of the Lublin Congress, Lithuania united with Poland to form a single confederate state – the Commonwealth. Kyiv is transferred to Poland, and most of modern Ukraine became part of the Polish state, while Lithuania retained most of Belarussia.

By the beginning of the XVII (17) century Poland included almost all of modern Ukraine, except Lugansk, Kharkov (Kharkiv), Crimea, and some other regions.

The Russian population of the Commonwealth began experiencing levels of discrimination based on their faith. By 1620 Orthodox faith becomes basically non-existent. The Orthodox hierarchy was secretly resurrected by the Jerusalem Patriarch Feofan (Pheophan) the same year. *

This time designated the core split in faith-based views between the East and West of the lands West of Volga.

Parts of Ukraine were added to the Russian State (and later, the USSR) at different times. Starting with the Central Part (Left Bank) of modern Ukraine joined the State in 1654, followed by the Central Part (Right Bank) in 1793 after the second Divide of Poland. The Carpathian Mountains region was added in 1945.

The Donbas region – the current hot spot of the 2022 conflict was added to Russia during the XVIII century and then transferred to Ukraine in 1922.

Crimea was added to Russia in 1783 and was given to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954.

Over 400 years of transition both sides – Western and Eastern dug heels in the ground, forming different views on politics, USSR totalitarians, even the language dialects began to differ.

2. What’s This Conflict About? Three Ingredients.

It is very important to understand that there are three key ingredients to what is happening in Ukraine right now. There are, possibly, more. I set the purpose of this essay as an attempt to educate in the shortest way possible while covering all major aspects of the current events.

Above I shared the first ingredient – the historical factor behind the conflict. So now I will concentrate on the remaining two, both from modern times.

Geopolitical Economy

To start, I would like to point out the geographical position of Ukraine, located in the center of the trade crossroads between Europe and the rest of the continent. There are two key components of the trade – the consumer goods and the transit of energy resources. The latter is natural gas which plays a main role in the pricing of consumer goods but is often the main component in the production process.

Europe is known for manufacturing a wide variety of very high-quality consumer goods, which come with a hefty price tag, dictated by high salaries and taxes. This makes the US the main consumer of European products, at the same time limiting the size of the profit for European manufacturers. On the other side is China, with sometimes bearable quality and super low prices.

To raise the profit margin, Europe has to find ways to lower the prices, and basically, eliminate the prevalence of Chinese goods on the market. But without having their own reliable and generous sources of energy (again, natural gas as one) they depend on what is being transited to them from Russia.

The transit costs a good penny (or should I say a good Euro?), which in turn, affects European profit margins.

Ukraine had been collecting very good money for transit of the natural gas from Russia. In fact, at some point in time, it was all that supported Ukraine’s economy. That is the part of the iceberg above the water. Under the murky waters is the other, larger part of Europe desperately depending on natural gas.

What’s the solution? That’s right – including Ukraine in the European Union, thus eliminating their ability to get paid for transit, which in turn will help the European manufacturers to larger profits and strengthen the presence of the US economic policies in Western Europe.

With the European Union comes the potential for NATO membership. Wouldn’t Ukraine love that? Yes, until they will be treated similarly as a small part of the EU, poor and insignificant. At the same time, Russia would end up with NATO right at its borders. **

The first attempt to pull Ukraine on the Western side took place in 2004. The West put too much trust into the Ukrainian political leaders. But what the Western business and political minds did not take into consideration, was the greed and corruption of the Ukrainian leaders. It might sound strange, but I wouldn’t really blame them for showing their true colors. Any other country escaping the Soviet tyranny without the strong experience with the principles of capitalism, forward planning, and fair deals did pretty much the same.

Imagine being broke for the longest time and then being waved hundred-dollar bills from every direction. The privatization of former state manufacturers (some very profitable) led to the quick sales of those to… yes, you guessed it – foreigners (and no, no Russians). So, the country was left with losses after those “get rich quick” schemes of their leaders. And that pushed then corrupt Ukraine to seek more treats from the Western world, the US in particular.

The US never surrenders, and when the first attempt failed due to the corruption on so many levels, they turned to the ideological war. The youth was and some extremists groups were targeted with ideology. The leaders were allowed to do whatever. This led to the rise of anger on all sides of the political spectrum of Ukraine and led to a further divide between the regions.

In the end, by 2015 Ukraine began talks with the US in regards to selling half of their transit system, without considering auction involving other countries – such as India, Brazil, even China, and of course, Russia itself. Ukraine could have got much more money in the long run, but the short-slightness and corruption of the Government proved the greedy, “grab and run” politics were indeed the core of the Ukrainian international tactics.

Do not be surprised if the next in line is Byelorussia. Except there will be much less need for military.

Political Prestige

In all honestly, there is no other obvious benefit in this conflict except the one I just described. There is no significant source of oil there, no significant natural resources. The mines of Donbas, once the core supply of coal of the region was flooded in the conflicts of 2014 and continue to be the arenas of constant fighting between the militia, state military, and terrorist groups.

This is not the war of taxpayers, but the war of Generals, where all the latter ever cared about was the political prestige.  However, the State Security Council of the Russian Federation is seriously believed to be playing a major role as opposed to the “personal psychopath tendency” of Putin (P.L.). It is believed that the rise of the opposition to globalization of Russia is true, originated there.

So the idea is to put pressure on all former states in the former Soviet block and to take back as much as possible and to “seal the border and the mind”.

I do not want to miss out on the fact that Russia has been supporting the “not recognized as independent” regions of Lugansk and Donetsk since 2014, part of the support including pensions to the mostly Russian population there. Yes, it would only make sense to try and annex the lands which are already sponsored by Russia. But it is a very insignificant part when it comes to the major scale and more ambitious plans to add as much land back to Russia as possible and then just seal the perimeter. ***

3. How Scary are the Sanctions?

I wouldn’t be surprised if reading the last paragraph your eyebrows were raised and the sanctions came to your mind.

President Biden said in one of his recent addresses that there will be no American boots on Ukrainian soil and the retaliation for the Russian actions will come through extremely tough economical sanctions. Personally, I find good grounds to believe this. Any physical involvement of the US will lead to violations of the Nuclear Agreements and then – watch out. China might be quiet for now, but will not miss the tiniest opportunity to take over the markets and resources. They will step in, and not necessarily on either side.

The latest sanctions may or may not influence the reverse movement of the Russian military. No one now really knows all the tricks up Putin’s sleeves.

However, here are the key sanctions that may sting, and some for a longer time.

As of February 25, multiple financial sanctions took place against Russia.

Most of them are limitations of financial activity, to name a few:

  • inability to conduct financial operations in euro currency, and to hold more than 100 000 K in European banks;
  • “freezing” of the accounts of Bank of Russia by Japan;
  • Prohibition of US dollar activity for Sberbank;

Those will affect mostly the civilians, some very dependable on family members living abroad and supporting the loved ones through financial transactions. Which is very unfortunate. Many immigrants have some family members back in Russia, and they have nothing to do with the political games. So, to those who are really wishing Russia all hell to come loose, this is probably the hardest hit on the civilian pocket.

Note that Russia remains connected to SWIFT at this point.

Another group of sanctions might outweigh the simple financial restrictions such as the limit on semiconductor, computer, and laser imports. ****

Electronics manufacturing in Russia has been only in the slow growth and development stage for the last 15-20 years. So, I am not sure if this is not very painful to them.

4. Do Russians and Ukrainians hate each other?

 Before I answer that question by providing my personal opinion, based solemnly on my own experience, I need to ask you: during the recent events in Canada, particularly, in Ottawa, did you agree that all involved in the protests were truckers?

You bet, the answer is No. The protest created great grounds for all kinds of opportunists. The world was watching. If someone somewhere out there was not familiar with the actual political course of Canada and saw a swastika flag or a gathering around the self-proclaimed “Queen of Canada” crowned with a toque, would it be fair for them to think that Canada is the land of the Nazis and medical ward #6 patients? Again, you bet – the answer is No. Regardless of your viewpoint on the whole event, you do agree the whole country can not be combed with one comb, where some teeth are missing or crooked.

What we learned from the historical introduction above, is the division created many centuries ago led to extremism to some degree. Really fuelled by the oppression of the Soviet Regime (the one I escaped in my late teens), the internal turbulence based on anger over the “unfair” historical divide had all the grounds to grow.

My Father, a very successful physicist had many students in Ukraine, mostly in Lvov (Lviv) and Drogobych regions, practicing and researching under his supervision in the labs of the St. Petersburg’s Ioffee’s Institute, the leader in physics research up to date.

They were not just welcome guests in our home, but we also visited them many times. I loved our trips to Lviv, as the small city mesmerized me with its historical downtown. I ended up with my very first boyfriend being from Lviv. Ironically, we broke up when I announced I was living in the USSR. He was an army cadet and did not want to leave.

Why ironically? Because a large part of the population of Lviv was dissatisfied to be under Soviet ruling more than many Eastern parts of Ukraine. The further West you went (towards the Carpathian Mountains), the quieter you had to be about where you came from. Our very hosts would share the stories of the bloody conflicts between Russians and Bandera’s groups. So, logically you would think my boyfriend would want to jump on the freedom wagon with me?

Well, here is another little detail. I left pretty much at the end of the Soviet era. The fresh wind of changes, blown through the private whispers in the kitchens, was escaping to the streets. He obviously knew more than me. Like many others, he hoped that Western Ukraine would form an independent state. We briefly reunited in 1996 when I was visiting Russia, but we were already too far apart. One thing I remember though is him wanting to move to Russia to escape the constant pressure of local racket groups to join them.

I have a few Ukrainian friends with whom I formed friendships in Canada based on our shared values of the country that welcomed us. Not for a minute did we ever engage in heated arguments over the Ukrainian “divide”. In fact, most do recognize that at some point in time we all were the subject of Soviet tyranny and chose to leave because we did not want to be subject to political division and pressure anymore.

Canada is known to be home to a large Ukrainian Diaspora. Pretty much all North West of Edmonton, large parts of Manitoba are the descendants of the Ukraine population. There is undoubtedly huge support for Ukraine in Canada. But some of the supporters do not really know the history. Life in Canada was so good, the older generations avoided talking much about their past. Except a few with the extremist views of both sides. But they have never been a part of the whole.

After becoming an Independent State, Ukraine quickly realized that it was time to look for new and strong allies to survive. The country found them in the Western world. That happened before the widespread of social media which created a burly stream of never known information. But, there had to be a narrative. There always has to be a narrative. Separated from the main “evil” – the “oppressing” Russia, what else was left to do but to dump as much dirt on the painful past?

So, to answer the question – we, the simple folk, do not hate each other. Furthermore, this very question is the result of the forced division so widely spread nowadays. But many of you my readers often express opinions that Canada itself is being purposely divided by the ideology coming from a few sources on the left. Not that I am saying cut your own lawn first before telling your neighbor he is over-grown, but I guess, I am.

In conclusion

This is a very sad for me time. I did not want it to happen in my lifetime. It is especially hard now that the country that I chose for life is now sanctioning the country where I was born.

I have no support for military actions; I always thought the diplomacy would have reached the results that the rockets are now trying to reach. At the same time, I am making myself step away from any judgment. For the reason that this conflict took a couple of absolutely unexpected turns and is now puzzling even the core experts, leaving them to guess the future.

It hurts to know that there are potentials for the deaths of civilians, that there are many scared children. But the truth and facts must be known. Though I can not change minds, I can share the facts.

In my next essay, I will write about the effect of the “guilty by association” that some of the immigrants from the USSR experienced many times since their arrival abroad. It is so tough to be Russian sometimes. Some of us who did not give an iota about the USSR and then Russian policies and politics, who just wanted a free and decent life have been subject to many demoralizing comments, and poor jokes.

Stay sane.
Your Pionerka


References and translated abstracts: *”Kievskaya Russia” – volume 1
**Natalya (Natamax) Live Journal, - June 6, 2014;
***Interview with Pavel Luzin, foreign affairs and security expert, “Nastoyaschee Vremya” – February 25, 2022;
****Anastassia Gostischeva, Financial Expert, “VBR”, - February 25, 2022;

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