Ukraine Conflict: Historically, Does Ukraine Belong to Russia? |

As of: 02/22/2022 6:17 PM

Russian President Putin has recognized the separatist regions of eastern Ukraine. He justifies this move by saying that eastern Ukraine is historically part of Russia. Is this really the case? Questions for publicity and historian Gerd Koenen.

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8 minutes

Koenin, what is the truth of Putin’s statement that historically eastern Ukraine belongs to Russia?

Gerd Coenen: Then most of Switzerland and Austria historically belong to Germany. Here we are in very shallow water, and this is kind of a great Russian ethnopolitics. But in this case it is more specific, because these areas of eastern Ukraine, where Russian-speaking people live, but far from the Russian population, but sometimes with many connections to Russia, are not necessarily the populations that historically have always lived there. For example, there were also great famine areas in Ukraine in the early 1930s, in which millions of people died. So there was a population exchange, as in the Crimea, by the way.

The second: What is Russia? Russia used to be the Russian Empire, where Russians as an ethnic group, if you can even define them that way, have always been a minority, just as in the Soviet Union. In this regard, this large multi-ethnic empire was divided into historical components, as it was in 1917 after the fall of tsarism. There was also this Ukrainian state. Then it was rolled. Putin and Russian nationalists now say that all of Ukraine is Lenin’s invention. With this, Putin put his cards on the table: Ukraine as a country does not exist at all.

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Ukrainian capital Kyiv from above.  © picture alliance / pressefoto_korb |  Micha Korb Photo: Micha Korb

Russia began attacking Ukraine. Ukrainian President Zelensky declared a state of war. A look into the past can reveal where many of the tensions come from and why Ukraine has struggled over issues of identity, belonging, and independence for centuries. more

How independent is Ukraine? In his speech, Putin denied the statehood and history of Ukraine.

Quinine: You shouldn’t be too surprised now. Putin has all kinds of tricks, he is lying to the world openly, as in the case of the annexation of Crimea: there were some green men or something. But he said the thing himself for a long time: Ukrainians don’t really exist. Historically, there are Russians, Russians, Belarusians and Little Russians. Ukrainians are little Russians – but this is a great Russian ethnic class from the old days of the tsars, which does not do justice to the fact that Ukrainians, as a rural people, have their own rural Ukrainian language. They also have their own culture. And it is no coincidence that when the great multi-ethnic Tsarist Empire collapsed in 1917, Ukraine immediately declared itself independent. There must have been historical disagreements that could not be controlled from Moscow. It is a Moscow-centric view that everything around it actually belongs to the Russian world.

Eastern Ukraine has been disputed for eight years. Now Putin wants to expand Russia’s responsibility in this area. How interesting has he been in the past few years?

Quinine: By building a giant bridge to Crimea, since Crimea already has a land connection and supply lines to Ukraine. But perhaps it should be noted that the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991/1992 was miraculously relatively peaceful, and a referendum was held in Ukraine with a large majority for independence – this is also among the Russian-speaking population of eastern Ukraine. Putin doesn’t want to admit it now, he says should never have happened. Then it only means that Ukraine does not exist, and that in fact he can collect it. But it can also lead to a split, for example – he’s already said that. The south is actually New Russia, and it has been resettled. These are all questionable historical titles. He always talks about a thousand-year history, but at that time there was no Moscow at all. If so, then Moscow should join Kyiv and not the other way around. Where do we come from if we’re talking about these millennium titles? This has a pretty bad ring to it in German, and for good reason.

What is the responsibility, what are the opportunities for Germany now? Is it enough to be consistent and finish Nord Stream 2, as Olaf Schulz has now done?

Quinine: No it’ll turn the gas off for us a bit, he already said. As in the Russian fairy tale: if the Han does not want to hear, he has to stand in the cold for a bit. They’re going to try that on us a little bit now and raise gas prices a little bit more. Technically, Nord Stream 2 wasn’t necessary. It has always been a geopolitical project. Enough gas got here via Ukraine, through the Yamal pipeline, via Nord Stream 1.

No, it just won’t be enough – you won’t be affected by the penalties anyway. Regardless of what an international law expert in Bremen, Lochterhand, rightly said: Even a threat to a sovereign state whose independence Russia has recognized, which gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994 in order for Russia to recognize its independence, is a violation of international law. It should at least state it clearly on this page. What we can do then is a second question.

led conversation Andrea Schweizer

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Culture NDR | The magazine | 02/22/2022 | 6:00 pm

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