The history of the world is full of controversies, of information truncated in places, but also of concrete facts, such as creation the bolshevik empire, known as the USSR in 1922 under the leadership of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. But, first attempt imperial power took place through the creation of the Kievan principality, or Kievan Russia, exactly on the current territory of Ukraine. As for the existence of an independent Ukrainian state, recently Vladimir Putin declared that “Ukraine did not exist before the USSR.”
History of Ukraine where things are never so simple
One of the interpretations of the name “Ukraine” is “border area”, and according to historians, this must be taken seriously. Ukraine’s modern history as an independent state boiled down to a few tumultuous years of a shaky Ukrainian People’s Republic between the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 and the consolidation of the Soviet Union in 1920.
According to a map made in the 17th century, more precisely in 1856, the Russian Empire at that time had a large territorial coverage, and according to this map, there were no clear borders delimiting the Russian Empire and a possible independent state of Ukraine (see the image in the gallery). Another map, published in 1920 in the French magazine “Le petit Journal”, (see the map in the gallery), showed the territory of Romania, as well as its borders, and these were adjacent to the Russian Empire, led by Tsar Nicholas II Romanov.
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Later, after 1922, its incorporation into the Soviet Union, as one of its original constituent republics, represented an important stage on the path to national sovereignty. This incorporation established territorial boundaries, recognized Ukrainians as the titular nationality of the republic, and for 70 years gave the republic’s communist leaders a substantial degree of autonomy, which grew over time, in the internal governance of the territory their.
Post-Soviet Ukraine built a national identity around memory Holodomor, the famine of the early 1930s, which is considered by the current Ukrainian state and some historians to be a punishment that Stalin purposely inflicted on the Ukrainians. But, nevertheless, there were undoubtedly dark chapters in the history of Soviet Ukraine, as well as of the Soviet Union in general.
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Putin’s reaction to the map of the 17th century Russian Empire: “Ukraine did not exist before the USSR”
As I was saying, there is an early 17th century imperial map made in France by Clement Cruttwell that showed the borders at that time. Vladimir Putin, on a visit to the Constitutional Court of Russia, according to state media, received a copy as a gift to them, stating at that time that “Ukraine did not exist before the USSR” and that „they never stopped being our people.”
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Vladimir Putin would make the same statement, but with a different tone and in a different context, in 2008, in Bucharest at the NATO Summit, when Ukraine and Georgia, two states that were an integral part of the USSR, wanted to submit their applications to join NATO. In a meeting with the American president at the time, G. Busch, Vladimir Putin said that “Ukraine was never an independent state!”
The NATO summit in Bucharest, from 2008, and Putin’s statement
As I said, four years after Romania’s accession to the North Atlantic Alliance, against the background of already existing tensions in the area, NATO leaders made the decision to hold one of the most important summits of those days in Bucharest, being invite all the heads of the member states, the president of the Russian Federation, and those of the two possible candidate states, Ukraine and Georgia.
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Following these meetings, and the speech delivered by Putin at the time, NATO did not start the procedures for accepting the two nations into the alliance. What’s more, Putin had a show of force, entering Georgia with his army. But, regarding Ukraine, during the speech in Bucharest, Vladimir Putin emphasized the idea that Ukraine did not exist before the USSR as an independent state:
“In general, Ukraine is a very complicated state. Ukraine, in the form in which it exists today, was created during the Soviet period, received its territories from Poland – after the Second World War, from Czechoslovakia, from Romania – and today they have not yet solved all the problems in the border region with Romania from the Black Sea.
Then, he received huge territories from Russia in the east and south of the country. It is a complicated state formation. If we introduce NATO issues into it, other issues, we might put the state on the edge of its existence. Complicated domestic political issues take place there. We should also proceed very carefully.
We have no veto power, and probably don’t pretend to have it. But I want all of us, when deciding such issues, to realize that there are also our interests. Well, seventeen million Russians currently live in Ukraine. Who could say we have no interests there? In the south, in the south of Ukraine, in totality, there are only Russians”, declared Vladimir Putin in Bucharest, so that later, on August 8, 2008, Russian forces invaded Georgia, marking the beginning of the first war of the 21st century in Europe.
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The decision to invade Ukraine was solely Vladimir Putin’s, as a message of force, possibly for NATO’s proximity to its borders. Pre-invasion Russian opinion polls are an unreliable guide to the future. It is not clear whether the younger post-Soviet generation, especially young men susceptible to military conscription, see Ukraine and its current Western orientation in the same way as the older ones. Putin’s past wars and acts of aggression on the international stage, such as Georgia, Chechnya, or Crimea, boosted his popularity at home, but they were successful wars. So far, the Russian adventure in Ukraine does not appear to be a success.
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