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When do you start the clock?
To reach an understanding, you must know
How we got here
What we do now
Most of the what passes for “news” either ignores the first question, or crafts an emotionally charged narrative to drive you in a particular direction. Even honest brokers will struggle with how much information to give their audience and weave it into a coherent narrative.
When you begin to study world events, you notice that what often looks like a new conflict can have some very old roots. It is my contention that the current war in Ukraine is just such a conflict. Most university, government, and media personalities have a lot of opinions about what we do now, but I think it’s worth belaboring “how we got here.” If for no other reason than as I’ve tried to construct a simple historical narrative I have been unable to do so.
For most people, the conflict in Ukraine began on February 24th, 2022 let’s see how far back in time we can go to establish a beginning of this conflict.
2022: Military invasion
February 24, 2022: Putin gives speech (English Transcript) detailing why he felt it was necessary to recognize Eastern Ukraine as independent, and why he was justified in occupying the territory. Here’s a brief excerpt:
in December 2021, we made yet another attempt to reach agreement with the United States and its allies on the principles of European security and NATO’s non-expansion. Our efforts were in vain. The United States has not changed its position. It does not believe it necessary to agree with Russia on a matter that is critical for us. The United States is pursuing its own objectives, while neglecting our interests.
we’re in a situation where Vladimir Putin is about to — we’ve had very frank discussions, Vladimir Putin and I. And the idea that NATO is not going to be united, I don’t buy. I’ve spoken to every major NATO leader. We’ve had the NATO-Russian summit. We’ve had other — the OSCE has met, et cetera.
And so, I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades. And it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera.
But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the forces amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further ingra- — invade Ukraine, and that our allies and partners are ready to impose severe costs and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy.
And, you know, we’re going to fortify our NATO Allies, I told him, on the eastern flank — if, in fact, he does invade. We’re going to — I’ve already shipped over $600 million worth of sophisticated equipment, defensive equipment to the Ukrainians.
December 31, 2021: Al Jazeera reports
“Russia will move to “eliminate unacceptable threats” if the United States and NATO do not respond to the Kremlin’s security demands,”
“The Kremlin says NATO’s expansion eastward and Kyiv’s growing ties with the body have undermined security in the region.Moscow claims such developments threaten Russia, contravene assurances given to it as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and compares with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when the world came to the brink of nuclear war.”
That’s the most recent history. Talks that in retrospect seemed doomed to fail. Given prior engagements on the matter. These talks largely circled around
Whether Ukraine would join NATO
Whether Ukraine would join EU
Whether US government would put nukes in Ukraine
Let’s see how much further back in time we can travel….
2018: An independent Ukrainian church
With profound pain the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church has taken the report of the Patriarchate of Constantinople published on October 11, 2018, about the following decisions of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople: confirming the intention ‘to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church; opening a ‘stauropegion’ of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Kiev; ‘restoring in the rank of bishop or priest’ the leaders of the Ukrainian schism and their followers and ‘returning their faithful to church communion’; ‘recalling the 1686 patent of the Patriarchate of Constantinople on the transfer of the Metropolis of Kiev to the Moscow Patriarchate as its part.
2014: Annexation of Crimea Peninsula.
11/21/2013: Ukraine shocks West with EU decision
For the past year, Ukraine insisted it was intent on signing an historic political and trade agreement with the European Union, but on Thursday, the government in Kiev made the surprising last-minute decision to suspend talks with the EU, drawing dismayed reaction from Europe and the United States.
Commenting on the news just minutes after it broke, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki that if reports were true "and if the decision is the Ukrainian government's final decision," the Obama administration was "disappointed."
Psaki said the U.S. believes there was "ample time to resolve all remaining obstacles to signing the association agreement ... with sufficient effort and commitment."
In what would be referred to as the Minsk agreements, Russia, Ukraine and the United States reached a moderate cease fire. Keeping Crimea under Russian Control and giving some of the Ethnically Russian east autonomy. These would eventually be the areas Putin would declare sovereign and created the grounds for today’s military engagement.
Ukrainian MPs have granted self-rule to parts of two eastern regions, and an amnesty to pro-Russian rebels there.
The law affecting Donetsk and Luhansk regions - which is in line with the 5 September ceasefire - was condemned by some MPs as "capitulation".
1991: death of the USSR
8/1/1991: George H.W. Bush chicken Kiev speech
freedom cannot survive if we let despots flourish or permit seemingly minor restrictions to multiply until they form chains, until they form shackles. Later today, I'll visit the monument at Babi Yar -- a somber reminder, a solemn reminder, of what happens when people fail to hold back the horrible tide of intolerance and tyranny.
Yet freedom is not the same as independence. Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local despotism. They will not aid those who promote a suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred.
We will support those who want to build democracy.
The man-made famine of Ukraine region by Soviet officials in Moscow. Leading to the death of millions including children.
The result of Stalin’s campaign was a catastrophe. In spring 1933 death rates in Ukraine spiked. Between 1931 and 1934 at least 5 million people perished of hunger all across the U.S.S.R. Among them, according to a study conducted by a team of Ukrainian demographers, were at least 3.9 million Ukrainians. Police archives contain multiple descriptions of instances of cannibalism as well as lawlessness, theft, and lynching. Mass graves were dug across the countryside. Hunger also affected the urban population, though many were able to survive thanks to ration cards. Still, in Ukraine’s largest cities, corpses could be seen on the street
In world war 2, Ukrainians would briefly greet Nazi’s as liberators against the red Soviets. This led to the creation of neo-nazi battalions that still operate in 2022 Ukraine with the permission of Zelenskyy’s government.
1917: Bolshevik revolution
On November 6 and 7, 1917 (or October 24 and 25 on the Julian calendar, which is why the event is often referred to as the October Revolution), leftist revolutionaries led by Bolshevik Party leader Vladimir Lenin launched a nearly bloodless coup d’état against the Duma’s provisional government . . .
The Russian Civil War ended in 1923 with Lenin’s Red Army claiming victory and establishing the Soviet Union.
In the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution, Ukraine was included as part of the USSR.
1686: Moscow can name Kiev bishop
This was alluded to above. In contention is what lineage of bishops “own” the rights to nominate the Bishop of Kiev. You can learn more about the historical case presented by reading this Speech (written in Russian) and Article detailing presentation. Under the apostolic tradition, who can nominate what position determines the hierarchy of the church. Whereas Roman Catholicism all falls underneath the Pope, Eastern Orthodoxy has separate lineages for the various ethnicities in communion with Constantinople. Therefore if the Moscow names Kiev’s bishop Kiev belongs to what today we call the Russian Orthodox Church. If not they are separate. This brings us to our last year to remember:
988: Vladimir the Great is baptized
When Vladimir the Great was baptized in 988 AD, all slavic people became Christian. He ruled a land known as Kievan Rus. Obviously we’ve been hearing a lot about Kiev/Kyiv as it is the capital of Ukraine. Rus in this context is clearly a precursive name of a people who would eventual be called Russian. Religiously speaking, this is the heart of the conflict. Kiev/Kyiv is considered by both modern Russians and Ukrainians to be the cultural home of their people. To the extent they are the same or differ is very much a question of historical debate, however it’s critical to understand that both sides claim fealty to this historical figure.
While communism tried to stamp out Christianity in Eastern Europe, they were unsuccessful. Similar to Skyes-Picot and other agreements as old empires fell borders were drawn on lines that don’t necessarily follow ancient traditions.
Where borders are drawn
If you have lived in the United States after WWII, you have enjoyed unprecedented stability - not only in your own life, but the world around you. Growing up we were taught the question of borders was largely resolved. After all, in our “democratic” age, the will of the people was recognized -ergo only those areas that were non-democratic could lose their borders. Most of the borders drawn in the Middle-East were arbitrarily done after the fall of the Ottoman empire. So too it would seem with the borders of Eastern Europe.
While the Soviet Union fell, NATO survived. What was an organization meant to fight communism today exists to fight the government of Russia.
Curtis Yarvin has some of the clearest analysis from an American Perspective:
The first country is Malorossiya, or “Little Russia.” Malorossiya, which has its own national identity, is and has always been, since before the birth of the USA, as much a province of Russia as Texas is an American state. Its capital is Kiev, which every educated GenX American knew as one of the three great Russian cities. Kiev was a Russian city when America was the Dominion of New England. Its second city is Odessa, another great Russian city, whence some of my ancestors came. If anyone thought my grandfathers were not Russians, it was only because they were Jews.
The second country is Ruthenia. The easy way to use this historically complex label in the modern world is to define it as the area inhabited by Ruthenian speakers, but which was never part of the Russian Empire. Its capital is Lviv, formerly known as the Polish city of Lwów. Various parts of Ruthenia changed hands between Poland and Austria at various times, depending on who had more jazzy uniforms.
Wikipedia, in its first sentence on the “Ukrainian language,” calls it “Ukrainian, historically also called Ruthenian.” As students of history, we prefer that our labels for lands and tongues not be historically changed for political reasons—thx diplomats.
It is easy to see from data that Ruthenian in the Russian Empire is a country language—95% of its speakers, in the 1897 census, are classified as “rural” rather than “urban”—making it, as I said, a “rustic argot.” Comparing it to “Welsh in Wales” was funny, because it was also a dig at the Welsh—an Anglo tradition since Shakespeare—but it would perhaps be more correct to say that in Kiev now, Ruthenian is roughly as important as Spanish in LA.
If someone told you that LA has a Spanish name and was once part of the Spanish Empire, they would be telling the truth. If they told you that 30% of the population spoke as much Spanish as English, 15% of the population more Spanish than English, and 5% Spanish only, you might think they were lowballing a bit. If they told you that LA was run by Spanish-only speakers, you would be right to refuse to believe them.
The borders you defend
It’s worth leaving you with a puzzler to think about over the next couple of days. Some American commentators have pointed out that the Biden Administration seems to care more about Ukraine’s border with Russia than with the border between The United States and Mexico.
I think this is an accurate assessment, but not for the reasons you think. Taking an anti-formalist analysis we can understand that just because something is written down on a map or Wikipedia does not make it so. It would follow from this we may need to make informal inferences based on the actions of powerful people rather than taking what is written down as gospel truth.
In other words? The border you defend is your foreign border.
The United States government isn’t concerned with migration from central and south America because the United States government in its current form considers the entire world it’s territory. Where we see conflicts therefore are the areas that the US is trying to conquer (like in Iraq or Syria) or maintain control over (like Ukraine) Texas and Mexico therefore are equally conquered territories.
It may seem crazy at first, but like a geopolitical optical illusion, as you relax your preconceived notions a new picture starts to form.