The end of the Russian Empire was when the last imperial family was overthrown by the Communist Bolsheviks during the Russian revolution led by Vladimir Lenin. The Russian revolution then escalated into the Russian Civil War where both the Red Army (Bolsheviks) and the White Army (Russian Imperial Army) fought fiercely to contest who would control Russia entirely. In the end, the Bolshevik Red Army won which then formed the Soviet Union (USSR) which then took over Ukraine as one of the first Republics after gaining independence for a short brief.
Over the next decade, the Soviet Union expanded its influence by taking back installing countries under the former Russian Empire into the Soviet Republic.
By the end of WW2, the Soviet’s influence expanded even further – where it installed Communist governments in countries such as Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Albania and so on. This challenges the West due to the ideological differences between both sides as the West developed a democratic government with a Capitalist economy. The ideological divide sparked tensions and distress between the West and the Soviet Union.
The Creation of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)
The creation of NATO is a reaction from the West alongside the U.S. and Canada as a reaction to the expansion of the Soviet Union and its communist influence. The purpose of the organization is where members of the organization vow to protect each other in case of an invasion.
In 1954, the Soviet Union requested to join NATO in order to create friendly ties with the West. However, the Soviet Union knew that the chances of the USSR being incorporated into NATO was slim. But why did the USSR request to join NATO? The reason for the request was that it was a win-win situation for them. If the USSR joined, Germany would stay disarmed as part of the reason for the creation of NATO was to keep Germany in check because of WW2. The second reason for the request to join NATO it’s because the application to join NATO was rejected, the Soviet Union would get their answer as NATO was formed to combat communism and the Soviet Union. When the USSR was not allowed to join NATO, USSR would then form the Warsaw Pact in 1955 as a countermeasure to NATO after the incorporation of West Germany into NATO.
The fall of the Soviet Union
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, all of the smaller republics within the Soviet Union gained independence – Ukraine is one of them.
So why is Ukraine in the middle of the tug-of-war between the West and Russia? Ukraine’s history is rather complex as Ukraine was part of the Russian sphere of influence as it was part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Besides that, much of modern-day Russia was started in Kievan Rus – modern-day Ukraine. This is why Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin wants to ‘take back’ Ukraine as he believed that Russians and Ukrainians belong to the same ethnic group due to its close ties such as heritage and history due to much of Russia’s roots started in Ukraine.
But does it sound as simple as it seems?
Expansion of NATO
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is because Russia’s president Vladimir Putin feels that the expansion of NATO to Russia’s border poses a threat to Russia due to rivalry between the West and Russia.
As mentioned, the creation of NATO was to counter the spread of Communism in Europe. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, NATO did not dissolve. In fact, NATO expands even further. All of the countries that used to be under Soviet influence (Ex-Soviet countries) are being incorporated into NATO. Because of that, Russia feels it is a threat as the West is getting closer and closer to their border.
Ukraine shifting from pro-Russia to pro-West
Ukraine’s political shift from pro-Russia to pro-West where a 2014 revolution called The Revolution of Dignity ousted the President of the pro- Russia government, Viktor Yanukovych after he made the decision not to sign a political association and free trade agreement with the European Union, instead he opts closer ties with Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), even if the Ukrainian parliament had majority approved to finalise the agreement with the European Union.
Because of this incident, widespread protest emerged in Ukraine as anti-Azarov government protesters saw this as widespread corruption of the government and abuse of powers amidst pressure from Russia to Ukraine not to finalise the deal.
Ever since the change of government, Ukraine has sought closer ties with the West as a way to move away from the Russian sphere.
Russia wants NATO to stop expanding
In December 2021, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin listed out demands to the U.S. and NATO to stop expanding eastwards to Russia’s border in order to loosen up tension between Russia and Ukraine. At that time, tens of thousands of Russian troops were placed at the Ukraine border.
However, much to Putin’s demands – NATO rejects the demands of Russia to stop expansion eastwards.
Besides just the demand to NATO to stop expanding, Russia also wants NATO to stop all membership plans, including to Ukraine. Additionally, Putin also wants the U.S. to guarantee that no military base will be set up in former Soviet countries that are not part of NATO, nor build bilateral military cooperation with them.
Could all of this be avoided?
At the end of the day, both sides are blaming each other where The West is saying Russia poses a threat and Russia is saying that The West is expanding to its borders to surround them.
How different will it turn out to be if NATO dissolves at the same time as the dissolution of the Soviet Union? Will there still be tension between The West and Russia? Will Ukraine still be a pawn stuck in between Russia and The West? There are many possible outcomes out there if things turn out differently.
*The article does not represent the political views of Teh Talk and the author.