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I have been on the ground in Ukraine for almost a month. The things I have seen and the things I have been told by scores of soldiers and government officials in the cities and towns I visit would fill a book. It’s hard to know where to begin because I try to keep this weekly update to about five hundred words. In this installment I will try to describe some history behind this war.
Russian President Vladimir Putin aims to re-unify the old Soviet empire, and he sees Ukraine as a buffer between Russia and the NATO countries to the west. The Russians see Ukraine much the same way China sees Taiwan. It is a break-away province of the mother country who have never been sovereign in their own right. Following this thinking, some will argue that had President Biden assured Mr. Putin that Ukraine would never be a member of NATO, there is a good chance this war would never have happened. I don’t know if this thinking is accurate, but it does force you to ask when did the entirely peaceful and defensive NATO alliance adopt an expansionist policy?
Since the 18th Century, Ukraine has had its own language and culture. They have a very strong sense of national pride and identity. In contrast, the civil wars in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan were fought by soldiers who put religious sect or tribal affiliation before national identity. The war in Ukraine is about the survival of their modern country. One way or another they have been fighting the Russians for their independence since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. They lost this fight and were forced to become part of the communist Soviet Union. Nearly four million Ukrainians were starved to death during the “holodomer,” the man-made famine created by Stalin in the 1930s. I fear we will see another one of these when winter sets in.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine began building itself into a sovereign country from the ground up. Ukraine celebrates August 24 as their Independence Day, when they declared by a 92 percent vote of the people to become independent from the USSR. This was the first time in centuries Ukraine was an entirely independent country. In 1994, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and President Bill Clinton signed the “Budapest Memorandum.” In exchange for turning over the world’s third largest stock pile of nuclear weapons for safe disposal, Ukraine received “security assurances” from the USA and the United Kingdom. In 2014, millions of Ukrainians took to the streets to protest for a more democratic and European-oriented future for Ukraine. Russia reacted to this by invading the country and occupying the Crimean Peninsula. Today’s war is a continuation of this aggression.
At that time President Obama responded by sending humanitarian aid. Besides stern language, nothing was done to provide Ukraine security assistance and enforce the Budapest Memorandum. When combined with America’s shameful departure from Afghanistan, it became very clear to Mr. Putin that the United States had betrayed its allies yet again, and wasn’t going to do anything about his war against Ukraine. Weakness has invited aggression since the dawn of man.
The US congress has passed a $53B aid package for Ukraine. Next week I will report on how much of this is actually reaching the 2.9 million refugees and the soldiers fighting for their country’s national survival.
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