Ukraine and Russia have a long joint history. In the 9th century the population in the area was comprised of a number of tribes as well as Viking settlers. Attempts to unify the country failed because the tribal leaders could never agree but, it is believed, they did agree to invite three Viking princes to help. These Vikings were from a people known as Rus and they succeeded in founding a nation covering an area similar to that of western Russia as we know it today, including most of Ukraine, and the name ’Russia’ derives from those times. At first they chose Novogrod as their capital but very soon it was moved to Kiev and the country was recognized as Kievan Rus. Kiev became the centre of the Russian Orthodox Church. Not until many years later was the capital transferred to Moscow. The rule was autocratic, as was probably necessary if the state was to be stopped from disintegrating, and these Viking princes are seen by some as the beginning of the dynasty of Czars that ruled Russia for centuries. Later the area that became Ukraine was overrun by Mongols but in the 14th century Poland, allied with Lithuania, drove out the Mongols and the Poles tried to impose Catholicism against the wishes of the Orthodox majority, they also tried to impose serfdom, the Ukrainians fought against the Poles, the fighters were known as Cossacks. In the 15th century Ukraine was under attack from the Ottomans, and the Poles. The Ukrainians then sought a treaty of protection with Russia, this treaty left part of the Ukraine under Poland.
In the 16th century Ukraine became part of Russia. Over the next three hundred years the Russians followed a programme of Russification. Most Ukrainians accepted this, seeing themselves as Russian, as indeed, historically many of them were. Many famous Russians were born in Ukraine. Later in the 19th century the growth of the Austrian empire led to the western part being taken by the Austrians who heavily oppressed the Ukrainians under their control. Following the First World War Ukraine became independent in 1917. In 1921 Communists took control of Ukraine and formed the UkrainianSocialistRepublic, they then voluntarily joined with Russia as part of the USSR. In 1991 Ukrainians agreed by a majority to become independent. Up till that time, for more than one thousand years, apart from short interludes due to invaders, Ukraine had been part of Russia and many Ukrainians continued to regard themselves as Russian.
The early history of Crimea is more vague but from 1478 to 1774 it was part of the Ottoman Empire, it prospered on slave trade with slaves taken from Ukraine and other parts of Russia. The Russians drove the Turks out and took control in 1783 when it became part of Russia. With the secession of Ukraine in 1991 Crimea became the Autonomous Republic of Crimea but was recognized internationally as part of Ukraine. It seems that it was rather difficult from the start, however, partly because the Russian Black Sea fleet was based in Crimea.
Coming to the present: In 2004 there was an election for President of Ukraine between two candidates: Yanucovych and Yushchenko; the former wanted to retain close links with Russia the latter wanted to get closer to Europe. Yanucovych won that election but by a small margin and Yushenchuko would not accept this, a re-run was ordered; this time Yushchenko won with a small majority. Yanucovych resigned. By 2010 Yushenchuko’s popularity plummeted and Yanucovych won a new election. He pursued closer ties with Russia; Ukrainians favouring Europe initiated protests that became riots. The parliament turned against Yanucovych and he resigned. Turchynov was appointed president without an election which, it is claimed, was illegal. He then pursued closer links with Europe. People in Crimea overwhelmingly had pro-Russian sympathies and they rebelled against what they saw as an illegal take over and they held a referendum that revealed over 97% of an over 83% turn out favoured being part of Russia. Russian troops entered Crimea to support them in the event that Ukraine should attempt to resist the secession by force. The result was a peaceful annexation by Russia in accord with the wishes of the people.
Russia has been greatly worried at the prospect of Ukraine being part Europe and part of NATO, with NATO bases on their doorstep. Imagine how the US would react if Russia set up military bases in Mexico.
Russian supporters in East Ukraine thought that they too could proclaim themselves Russian. And that has brought us to where we are. So far the Russians have been reluctant to send their forces into East Ukraine but, understandably, they have (I don’t doubt) been willing to supply these ‘rebels’ with weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles, to defend themselves against well armed regular Ukrainian forces. The Russians did not know and could not have known that some idiot would use the anti-aircraft missiles to shoot down a civilian liner. The politics is complicated. The USA, with the aid of the CIA, is an old hand at undermining democratically governments that they dislike, how much did they and Europe help to promote the unrest that led to the resignation of the pro-Russian president? How much were they motivated by the thought of putting a NATO base in Ukraine? How much have they attempted to take advantage of Crimea and the MH17 tragedy to generate anti-Russian feelings in Europe, US and the world at large? There is no doubt that the shooting down of MH17 was a tragedy for the families concerned, but it has been as big a disaster for Putin as for everyone.
It is blatant hypocrisy on the part of the US and the UK, to complain about Russia’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine. Who was it that trained and armed rebels trying to destabilise Assad in Syria? (and what a mistake that has turned out to be). Who trained and armed the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan to fight the Russians, only to find themselves subsequently fighting the same men using US weapons? The US has a history of interfering in other countries, often to the point of sending in their troops as in Vietnam and Iraq (and what a mess that country is in now), to mention but two. They undermined governments in South America when they disapproved of the government, even if it was democratically elected, helping to install ruthless dictators. Who is it that sends killer drones into Pakistan territory?
Why are we so critical of Russia but uncritical of Israel? The Russian action in peacefully annexing Crimea is understandable if not justifiable. Why is Cameron leading the pack demanding sanctions?
Contrast this with Israel, they have occupied Palestinian land illegally, ignored UN resolutions for years, driven Palestinians out of their homes and farms and encouraged Israeli settlers to take their place. They have slaughtered Palestinians in large numbers over decades and they have effectively ‘kettled’ the Palestinians in Gaza with their blockade, and now, as I write, they are bombarding the people in Gaza destroying homes and infrastructure, killing civilian men women and children as a punishment for daring to try and fight back. There are two nations in this world that can do as they please, the US and Israel, and they have the nerve to criticise Russia and try to beat them with a sanctions stick. Where are the sanctions against Israel?