“Beat your own so that strangers are afraid of you.” This is a common Russian expression, which literally means, “beat your friends, so your enemies will be scared of you.”
In Russian culture the phrase is often used to condemn someone’s behavior. It’s an ironic expression, often used in respect of people who attack others from their own team in order to intimidate everybody else.
Indeed, the phrase clearly characterizes Russian psychological behavior and today’s Russian invasion of Ukraine – a big Russian brother teaches a “lesson” to his little Ukrainian brother, while pointing an aggressive finger to his “naughty” neighbors – former Soviet Republics.
But what are the underlining causes and reasons of today’s brutal Russian–Ukrainian war? Historically, Russians and Ukrainians are both Slavs, sharing similar languages, cultural traditions, religion, psychological behavior and many other elements of Slavic culture. The historic bond of both nations goes back to the mid–9th century or formation of the Kiev Rus and later acquisition of other Slavic territories under authority of Moscow in the 11th and 12th centuries.
Ukraine was firmly under Moscow’s thumb prior to 1991. Any anti-Moscow policies and ideological diversions had been severely punished by the central Soviet regime.
Slavic states withstood and ultimately defeated a brutal Mongol invasion and occupation from the 12th to 15th centuries. They participated in Eastward expansion into Siberia and Russian Far East, bravely fought together in the Crimean War of 1853–1856, and the revolutionary movement of the early 20th century. They courageously defended their land in both World Wars, and were under one national state – the Soviet Union – until the end of 1991. In fact, Ukraine received its sovereignty as a de-jure and de-facto country for the first time in its history only after the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991.
Indeed, there are many cultural, political, historic and linguistic ties between Russians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians. I know this first-hand. Born and raised in Kiev, Ukraine, I traveled extensively in these republics as an archaeologist or educator prior to my departure as a political refugee from Kiev to the West in 1977.
I know Ukraine and its people well. The country is truly multi-cultural and bilingual. Eastern, north central and southern parts of the country, including Crimean Peninsula, predominantly speak the Russian language, while western and rural territories of the country predominantly speak the Ukrainian language. However, all residence of the country can freely communicate with each other in both languages. My native language is Russian, and I speak Ukrainian fluently. Nevertheless, politically, academically and ideologically, Ukraine was firmly under Moscow’s thumb prior to 1991. Any anti-Moscow policies and ideological diversions had been severely punished by the central Soviet regime.
The second reason for the current Russian–Ukrainian war has to do with Ukraine’s incompliance with the Minsk Protocol of 2014.
Considering the historic and cultural bond between these two nations, why has war erupted with such uncompromising force? In my view, one of the major reasons is the continued expansion of the NATO military alliance eastward, approaching Russian national borders and, therefore, threatening its national security.
In the last 15–20 years, the Russian government has cautioned against this expansion, reminding the West that “the security of one nation should not be done at the expense of the security of another nation.” For example, Cuba is a sovereign country, but we will not tolerate a Russian nuclear submarine to be stationed in Cuba; among other instances – Iran and North Korea nuclear ambitions.
The second reason for the current Russian–Ukrainian war has to do with Ukraine’s incompliance with the Minsk Protocol of 2014. The Minsk Protocol was drawn-up by the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, which consisted of legitimate representatives from Ukraine, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The group was established in June 2014 as a way to facilitate dialogue and resolution of the strife across eastern and southern Ukraine.
The text of the protocol consists of 12 points:
— Ensure an immediate bilateral ceasefire.
— Ensure the monitoring and verification of the ceasefire by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
— Decentralize power, including through the adoption of the Ukrainian law “On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (Districts).”
— Ensure the permanent monitoring of the Ukrainian–Russian border and verification by the OSCE with the creation of security zones in the border regions of Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
— Immediate release of all hostages and illegally detained persons.
— Prevent the prosecution and punishment of people in connection with the events that have taken place in some areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (Districts).
— Continue the inclusive national dialogue.
— Take measures to improve the humanitarian situation in Donbas.
— Ensure early local elections in accordance with the Ukrainian law “On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.”
— Withdraw illegal armed groups and military equipment as well as fighters and mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine.
— Adopt a program of economic recovery and reconstruction for the Donbas region.
— Provide personal security for participants in the consultations.
Ukraine’s request to become a member of the European Union and subsequently to join NATO is unwise, unrealistic and dangerous for all sides involved. This request should never be encouraged by the West. In addition to this request, President Zelensky’s recent suggestion to exit 1994 Budapest Memorandum only added fuel to the fire during this turbulent time for Ukraine and the world at large. As President Putin responded to this unwise suggestion on February 22, “Yes, we heard you.” And several days later, Russia launched a massive full–scale invasion of Ukraine.
It is conceivable that Russia will continue its aggressive invasion and eventual partition of Ukraine; and who knows what is next.
To remind readers of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, the United States, Russia, and Great Britain committed “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and “to refrain from the threat or use of force” against the country. Those assurances played a key role in persuading the Ukrainian government in Kiev to give up what amounted to the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal, consisting of some 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads.
When the U.S.S.R. broke up in late 1991, there were nuclear weapons scattered in the post–Soviet states. The George H. W. Bush administration worried that the collapse of the Soviet Union might turn violent, raising the prospect of conflict among nuclear–armed states. Ensuring no increase in the number of states with nuclear weapons meant that only Russia would retain nuclear arms. Further, President Clinton’s administration pursued the same goal.
Eliminating the strategic nuclear warheads, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and strategic bombers in Ukraine was a critical deal for the United States, NATO and Russian Federation. The ICBMs and bombers carried warheads of monstrous size – all designed, built, and deployed to attack United States and Western Europe. The warheads atop the SS-19 and SS-24 ICBMs in Ukraine had explosive yields of 400–550 kilotons each – that is, nearly 30 times the size of the atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima. The 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads – more than four times the number of nuclear warheads that China currently possesses – could have destroyed every U.S. city with a population of more than 50,000 three times over.
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Clearly, Russian–Ukrainian war, resulting in massive destruction of the Ukrainian cities, casualties on both sides and dangerous tensions between the West and Russia, was preventable if two stipulations described above were followed through by Ukraine and NATO – i.e., stop expansion of NATO eastward and Ukraine’s compliance with the 2014 Minsk Protocol.
In my presentation “Russian–Ukrainian Relations: Looking Back and Looking Forward” at the Juneau World Affairs Council in 2014, I discussed demographic, territorial and social issues between these two nations that is still current today. Click on the link to watch this presentation. https://www.ktoo.org/video/russian-ukrainian-relations-looking-back-and-looking-forward/
Unfortunately, today the “Bear” is out of his cage, and he will grab what he can and wants. Sanctions against Russia are interpreted by Russians as an economic declaration of war and, most likely, will not result in Putin’s retreat or ultimate defeat.
In my observation and communication with Russian citizens, most of them support Putin’s aggressive politics, his imperial ambitions and “special military operation in Ukraine.” It is conceivable that Russia will continue its aggressive invasion and eventual partition of Ukraine; and who knows what is next.
Solution – someone has to give in order to prevent a global conflict. And please, don’t tease the “Bear” or play with “matches.”
The views expressed here are those of the author.