‘Russia and Ukraine: Historical Perspectives on the Current Crisis’

The title of this article is the same title of a lecture organised by the History society at the University of Kent, where I’m currently studying. It was given by one of my lecturers, Dr Philip Boobbyer, an academic who specialises in Russian history. He is in fact the convenor for modules that can be taken by second and third year history students such as ‘Russia:1855-1945-Reform, Revolution and War’.

I did inform him beforehand that I would be writing an article for the ‘SouthFront’ website about his talk and he politely gave me permission to do so.

On the day of the event (10/3/2015) I went to the lecture a bit early. It was just in time to notice that people of all age groups attended. I later discovered that Philip actually knew some of the elderly people who came. However most of the attendees were university students who either took a history degree or had their own interest in the topic.

I will summarise what Philip Boobbyer said in these bullet points:

  • The present crisis came about during the 2010 elections. Tymoshenko had her core support in western Ukraine, whereas Yanukovich got most votes in the east.
  • In 2013 Yanukovich refused to sign a deal with the European Union, as we all know. Thus some Ukrainian nationalist decided to take to the streets in Kiev because they feared that their country would be placed in the Russian sphere of influence.
  • Ukraine became Russian after Catherine II’s war with the Ottomans. It was at this point that the region of Novorossiya was established. It has historically been loyal to Moscow.
  • The idea of Ukraine was shaped in the 19th century by the poet Taras Shevchenko and the historian Nikolai Kostomarov.
  • During the Russian civil war (1918-1921) all armies involved were in Ukraine (Red, White, foreign). It was during this period that Ukrainian nationalism emerged.
  • Ukraine was integrated into the U.S.S.R. as a Soviet Socialist Republic after the civil war.
  • Lenin and Stalin argued over the issue of the non-Russian republics. Stalin wanted to recreate, in a way, the tsarist empire and giving limited autonomy to the regions. Lenin, on the other hand, believed that all Soviet Socialist Republics were equal and that they had the right to secede. In reality, the non-Russian republics were under Moscow’s control.
  • At the 23rd Communist Party Congress in 1923, a policy was passed that encouraged the different nationalities within the U.S.S.R. to develop their language and culture. Therefore Ukrainian identity progressed.
  • In the late 1920s-early 1930s Stalin enforced collectivisation. He hoped to destroy peasant culture and prove that state economic planning can be efficient. As most people know, this brought famine and death.
  • In the 1930s Stanislav Kossior and Pavel Postyshev led purges of Ukrainian communists during the Great Terror. This is ironic since in 1939 they both got arrested and shot.
  • The 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact allowed territories from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania to be added to Ukraine.
  • During the Second World War, two nationalist figures rose. One was Andrii Melnyk who was a  moderate. The other was Stepan Bandera, a fascist collaborator whose Ukrainian insurgent army carried out atrocities against Poles, Jews etc.
  • In 1954, Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Pereslavl treaty that integrated the Cossacks into Russia.
  • During Brezhnev’s regime Pyotr Shelest was head of the Ukrainian Communist Party. He promoted Ukrainian national identity like his predecessors did in the 1920s.
  • In the 1980s the Soviet leaders thought there were no problems concerning the nationalities. In reality, they were slowly appearing.
  • During Yuri Andropov’s government (1982-84) Putin became a KGB agent. These spies were known for being paranoid and believing that domestic issues were caused by mischief from abroad.
  • The Belavezha Agreement of December 1991 abolished the Soviet Union. Ukraine became a sovereign country.
  • Both the Donetsk and Lugansk provinces are the most industrialised regions in Ukraine. After 1991 polls showed that most people considered themselves to be ‘Soviets’ in the national sense.
  • The Maidan protesters who pulled down the statues of Lenin symbolise the polarisation of Ukrainian opinion on the Bolshevik leader. There are people who seem as an anti-Russian hero since he was against the tsarist empire, and others who regard him as an authoritarian ruler.

After the lecture, a certain amount of time was dedicated to questions from the audience. There was one Crimean lady who asserted that Khrushchev donated Crimea to Ukraine because its economy was unsustainable without access to the mainland.

There was also one person who mentioned that the Russian media highlighted fascist elements within the Kiev government. Philip dismissed it as an exaggeration on part of Russia.

Dr Boobbyer during his lecture and afterwards declared that Putin at the start of his presidency was a liberal nationalist, but now (according to him) he is a kind of ‘Soviet’ Russian nationalist that tries to extend his nation’s sphere of influence. He obviously doesn’t take into account of the expansionist policies of the US, NATO and EU in Ukraine that eventually led to the Maidan ‘revolution’ at the expense of the Russians. What I’m trying to say here is that people can say whatever they want about the Russian state, but they have to admit that on the whole it is far less aggressive than the USA who attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments since 1945. And it has done so in Ukraine as well (1). In addition, post-Soviet Russia may be a rising superpower but it still weak compared to its rivals. Putin himself rejected the idea of making Novorossiya a Russian region (2) and supports the foundation of a multi-polar world, as opposed to a uni-polar one which is what the US and EU cliques want (3).  In the western media he is getting the same treatment that Saddam Hussein had before the 2003 Iraqi conflict (4).

Going back to the main topic, Dr Philip Boobbyer made a very informative lecture. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with his views, he is very knowledgeable about his subject and he makes his talks worth a listen. I was very glad that the History society at my university prepared something like this. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

For further information
University of Kent website: http://www.kent.ac.uk
Dr Philip Boobbyer:http://www.kent.ac.uk/history/staff/profiles/boobbyer.html