Russian desire for empire has a long history. The Russian Czars, who saw themselves as the spiritual heirs of Eastern Holy Roman Empire, took it as their duty to look after and direct the former Empire’s territories. Sometimes paternalistic other times brutal, Czarist Russia strove to keep Eastern Europe in its grip. The Communist in turn saw it their duty to seize the same lands in the name of their new Marxian religion.
Ukraine in particular has been the object of Russian ambition for centuries. They fought hard against Russian imperialism and suffered immeasurably for it. They tried to thwart Lenin from seizing power and succumbed only after making him pay a bloody price. Stalin so feared a resurgent Ukraine he preemptively struck an unimaginable blow to the country. Stealing their grain he created the worst man made famine in history. By the time Russia released its death grip 7 million had died, 25% of the population.
It is no wonder that when the opportunity presented itself the Ukrainians moved back towards independence. The Russians regime, even in recent history, had shown total disregard for Ukrainian lives. The Chernobyl accident and the callous way the Soviet Union dealt with the situation was fresh n people’s minds in 1989 when revolutions spread across Eastern Europe. Declaring independence in 1990, the road to freedom has not been easy. Even with new constitution in 1996 and the peaceful Orange Revolution in 2004, Soviet style corruption has been hard to shake. Still the people have continued to strive towards a freedom and independence. For Russian imperialist like Putin, the Ukrainian movement away from Russia has left them with a severe sense of loss.
Putin saw the dissolving of the Soviet Union his country’s greatest tragedy and and reconstituting the Russian Empire his greatest challenge. Slowly advancing against former Soviet Republics, he is relentless in his pursuit of reestablishing Russian control over Eastern Europe. Fortunately, his weaker Russia has had to resort to using mostly economic blackmail and political interference to do what in the past was done with brute force. In Ukraine, home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, this strategy has met a wall in the form of people who refuse to forget.
For most Ukrainians, history makes the specter of Russian imperialism all the more unacceptable. With that in mind, the recent uprising should not be surprising. President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to become Putin’s patsy in Kiev has proved to be his undoing. Grabbing power and turning his back on the west, his attempt to undue the results of the first Orange Revolution has inspired another one.
With the release from Prison of the former Prime Minister and Orange Revolution’s leader, the Russian silent take over of the Ukraine has ended. As Putin revels in the fact his country has done so well in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, his greatest prize has slipped through his fingers. To that end, the revolution in Kiev is likely to have reverberations in Moscow for years to come. Hopefully this time the Ukrainians will be able to fend off the ambitions of unscrupulous politicians and the imperialism of its former foreign master. Time will tell if they succeed but for today at least the winds of freedom are at their backs.
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