Thirty years of the independent existence of Russia and Ukraine has shown that the problem of the development of relations between them is of great importance and goes beyond the bilateral framework. It affects the nature of integration processes and the military-political situation in Europe. With massive human, economic, military, and scientific potential and occupying an important geostrategic position, Russia and Ukraine seem to be the essential stabilizing factor of the new European world order. Russia and Ukraine are closely interconnected and interdependent. However, despite the economic interdependence, cultural kinship, and deep historical relationship between the two States, serious disagreements have arisen that ultimately have grown into a military confrontation. This paper exploits the theory of civilizations to account for the Russian-Ukrainian divide and project possible scenarios for the future.
July 16, 1990
The new Ukrainian parliament voted for the declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. On December 26 of the same year, the Soviet Union officially disintegrated.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was left with the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world. According to the Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine agreed to exchange its intercontinental ballistic missiles, warheads and other nuclear infrastructure in exchange for guarantees that the other three parties to the treaty — the United States, Great Britain and Russia — will respect the independence and sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine.
Over the ten years of Leonid Kuchma’s presidency, Ukraine has been transitioning from a Soviet republic to a capitalist society, privatizing enterprises and working to improve the international economic situation.
Yushchenko takes office as president, and Yulia Tymoshenko becomes Prime Minister.
After the efforts of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko to join Ukraine in NATO, in January, they officially requested to provide Ukraine with a ‘membership action plan,’ the first step in joining the alliance. US President George W. Bush supported Ukraine’s membership, but France and Germany opposed it after Russia expressed dissatisfaction. In April, NATO responded with a compromise: it promised that Ukraine would one day become a member of the alliance but did not indicate a specific way to do it.
On January 1, Gazprom suddenly stopped supplying natural gas to Ukraine after several months of politically tense negotiations on gas prices (Liadze et al., 2022). As Eastern and Central European countries rely on pipelines through Ukraine to import gas from Russia, the gas crisis rapidly spread beyond Ukraine (Liadze et al., 2022). Under international pressure, Tymoshenko negotiated a new agreement with Putin, and gas supplies resumed on January 20. Today, most of Europe is still dependent on Russian gas.
From November 2013 to February 2014
Just a few days before the signing of the association agreement between Ukraine and the EU, Yanukovych refuses to do so. He cites pressure from Russia as the reason. Such a statement caused mass protests across Ukraine with calls for Yanukovych’s resignation (Kuzio, 2018). The protesters begin to set up camp on Kyiv’s Maidan and occupy government buildings. By the end of February, more than 100 people had died due to clashes between police and demonstrators (Kuzio, 2018). On the eve of the impeachment vote scheduled for February 22, Yanukovych fled to Russia. The Ukrainian parliament unanimously voted for the removal of Yanukovych and the creation of an interim government, which announced the signing of an agreement with the EU and voted for the release of Tymoshenko from prison (Kuzio, 2018). The new government accused Yanukovych of the mass killings of protesters on the Maidan and issued a warrant for his arrest. Russia claimed that the change of the government of Ukraine was an illegal coup. Almost immediately, armed people appeared at checkpoints and facilities on the Crimean peninsula.
While Russian troops controlled the peninsula, the Crimean parliament voted for secession from Ukraine and joining Russia. This was followed by a public referendum in which 97% of voters favored secession, although the international community disputes its results (Malyarenko and Wolff, 2018). On March 18, Putin announced in parliament that he was completing the annexation of Crimea to Russia (Malyarenko and Wolff, 2018). In response, the United States and its European allies imposed sanctions against Russia.
When about 40 thousand Russian servicemen gathered on the eastern border of Ukraine, violence broke out in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas (Fischer, 2019). Russian—backed separatist forces stormed government buildings in two eastern regions – Donetsk and Luhansk (Fischer, 2019). They proclaimed independence from Ukraine as the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, although they remain internationally recognized as part of Ukraine.
September 5, 2014
Representatives of Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany met in Belarus to try to negotiate an end to the conflict in the Donbas. They signed the first Minsk agreement between Ukraine and Russia on the cessation of violence within the framework of the truce. The truce was soon broken, and fighting continued into the new year.
In April, Vladimir Zelensky was elected president. During his campaign, Zelensky promised to make peace with Russia and put an end to the war in the Donbas.
Russia sent about 100,000 troops to the borders of Ukraine to conduct military exercises.t Zelensky called on the NATO leadership to set deadlines for Ukraine’s accession to NATO.
Biden, during a telephone conversation with Putin, urged Russia not to invade Ukraine, warning of ‘real costs’ if Russia did so. Putin put forward a number of controversial demands on security issues. Among them, he asked NATO to exclude Ukraine’s possible membership in the organization and withdraw troops stationed in countries that joined the alliance after 1997, including Romania and the Balkan countries (Mackintosh, 2022). Putin also demanded a written response from the United States and NATO.
January – August 2022
Representatives of the United States and NATO submitted their written responses to Putin’s demands on January 26. In their responses, officials said they could not ban Ukraine from joining NATO but signaled their willingness to negotiate on smaller issues such as arms control.
February – August 2022
Russia continued to increase the number of military personnel; US officials, including Biden, intensified their warnings, stating that Russia had decided to invade. On February 21, Putin officially recognized the independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, including territories claimed by separatists but controlled by the Ukrainian armed forces (Mackintosh, 2022). Putin ordered the Russian military to send troops there under the guise of a “peacekeeping” mission (Mackintosh, 2022). In response, Biden declared this step “the beginning of the Russian invasion.” The United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union imposed a wide range of sanctions against Russian banks and oligarchs (Siddi, 2022). On February 24, Russian troops began a large—scale invasion of the territory of Ukraine – the largest such military operation in Europe since the end of World War II.
Like all Slavs in general, Ukrainians and Russians belong to a large family of Indo-European peoples who originated in ancient times. Today, both in Ukraine and in Russia, there are numerous national minorities: Ukrainian – in Russia and Russian – in Ukraine. Analyzing the history of two peoples, Ukrainian and Russian, it is easy to ensure that the most important historical events caused a corresponding resonance on both sides. A characteristic feature of history is that Ukraine has long been under the influence of different civilizations (Western Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) (Kagarlitsky et al., 2019). That brings many authors to consider the theory of the clash of civilizations in determining the place of Ukraine in history and in accounting for the present conflict (Huntington, 2015). Huntington (2015) believes that Ukraine is doomed to be a divided country.
Countries like Ukraine are called divided because large groups of the population that live in them identify themselves with different civilizations. According to the scientist, such countries face problems in maintaining their integrity (Huntington, 2015). Ukraine is the second most important state in the post–Soviet space. Harris (2020) asserts that the fault line runs through Ukraine – right through its center – for already several centuries. The cause of the civilizational rift, according to Huntington (2015), became the Brest Union, concluded in 15961.
As an example confirming the theory, some scientists cite the results of the presidential elections of Ukraine in 1994 (Raik, 2019). The majority supported L. Kravchuk, and part of the center, the South and the East voted for L. Kuchma (Raik, 2019). With the exception of the elections in 1994, all national elections from 2004 to 2010 have given the same border (Harris (Harris, 2020). Many researchers have noticed that this line was the boundary of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 17th century (Averre and Wolczuk, 2018). D’Anieri (2019) said about Western Ukrainians that they belonged to a different kind of civilization from the Muscovite Kingdom since they lived outside of Russia and the Soviet Union for a long time. The South and the East, on the opposite, have never lived outside the borders of the USSR or Russia.
According to S. Huntington (2015), Russia is the core state of the Orthodox civilization, surrounded by countries with which it has ambiguous relations. Slavic republics – Belarus and Moldova, as well as Kazakhstan and Armenia – gravitate towards it as allies. Russia has relatively close ties with Georgia and Ukraine; although these countries have a strong sense of national identity and remember their former independence, as seen from recent political events in these regions. In addition, both Georgia and Ukraine are actually divided countries, many of their people drifting towards the West, seeking its support and patronage.
Thus, according to S. Huntington (2015), Russia is creating and leading a bloc of states with an Orthodox center surrounded by relatively weak countries, in which it continues to dominate to one degree or another and tries to prevent the spreading of the influence of other powers. But S. Huntington (2015) does not believe that Russia has the right to claim the role of the dominant world power and does not see a threat to the geopolitical revival of Russia-Eurasia. Researchers believe that the best way of development for Russian civilization lies in the modernization modeled on the West, relying on its own traditions, institutions, and values.
Those authors who explain the ongoing conflict in terms of the clash of civilizations have repeatedly forecasted the split of Ukraine along the fault line into two parts. (Welt, 2019) Thus, Huntington (2015) has no doubt that the eastern part would become part of Russia. He (Huntington, 2015, pp. 55-59) also believes that the western part of the country is likely to secede from Ukraine, “which has been getting closer and closer to Russia,” but emphasizes that such a “pruning” of a Uniate and pro-Western Ukraine can be viable only with the active and serious support of the West. And such support can be provided only in the event of a significant deterioration in relations between Russia and the West, up to the level of confrontation during the Cold War (Huntington, 2015, pp. 60-63). While the world is not divided into blocks yet, the echo of the Cold War has become more pronounced in recent months as the war in Ukraine has led to a severe curtailing of cooperation between Russia and the West in all spheres of life (Rey, 2022). The theory of the clash of civilizations has long predicted a similar outcome and, unfortunately, has proven its validity bringing death and suffering to innocent people on both parts of the divide. It remains to be seen how the conflict will be ended and whether it can be resolved; however, bearing in mind Huttington’s predictions for the future, people in the West and in the East fear that the most bitter fighting is yet to come.
Recent events, such as the coup d’état in Ukraine, prove that the manifestation of instability in one country can impact the entire world community. The presence of many unresolved conflicts and contradictions between Russia and Ukraine has made the relationship extremely unstable. As the most economically and militarily developed state, Russia has been responsible for security in the region. The current foreign policy of Russia in the post-Soviet space and its engagement in open warfare with Ukraine will likely determine the future fate of all participants in the post-Soviet area for years to come. The civilizational divide that runs right through the center of the Ukrainian nation may ultimately break the country into two parts unless serious efforts are made to keep the unity of this country.
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- Brest Ecclesiastical Union of 1596 – the unification of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and Belarus with the Catholic Church in 1596, with the subordination of the Orthodox Church to the Pope, recognition of the basic Catholic dogmas, and the preservation of Orthodox rites.