“What can we make of a country which refuses to fight for itself, and at the same time, expects foreign countries to pull its chestnuts out of the fire? The reasons may lie in the historical genesis of modern Ukraine, which is a nation called into being during World War I, not by a popular movement of its own people, but rather by the German military leadership, and then propped up in recent years by the United States and the European Union.” Webster Tarpley
Here is an interesting piece by Historian Webster Tarpley about the history of the area of the world we now call Ukraine and for which John Key has not excluded sending military aid too in case of a Russian invasion.
News reports on the reaction in Kiev to the reunification of the Crimean peninsula with Russia have included the idea that some Ukrainians resent the failure of the United States or the western European powers to intervene militarily against Russia in favor of the new Kiev fascist government. At the same time, it appears that Ukrainian military units have uniformly refused to fight for their borders, their bases, their headquarters, or other strategic assets under their control. Much of the Ukrainian army and navy located in the Crimea has chosen rather to become part of the Russian forces. Repeated attempts by the Yatsenyuk government in Kiev to call up reservists or otherwise to mobilize manpower for military purposes have met with a very meager response.
What can we make of a country which refuses to fight for itself, and at the same time, expects foreign countries to pull its chestnuts out of the fire? The reasons may lie in the historical genesis of modern Ukraine, which is a nation called into being during World War I, not by a popular movement of its own people, but rather by the German military leadership, and then propped up in recent years by the United States and the European Union.
International attention has lately been much focused on Ukraine, but world publics know very little of the history involved. The country located on the Pontic step (the flatlands north of the Black Sea) currently calling itself Ukraine has only existed for 23 years, since the failure of the August 1991 KGB-inspired coup in Moscow. Before that, to find something that corresponds to modern Ukraine, we must go back to the Kievan Rus late in the first millennium of the Common Era. This was a state set up by Vikings (called Varangians) along the Dnieper River, which was the main inland waterway between Scandinavia in the north and the Byzantine Empire in the South. It was here that grand Duke Vladimir converted to Orthodox Christianity in the year 988, thus establishing a religious tradition which continues to be decisive in Russian history down to the present day. But Vladimir’s state did not call itself Ukraine, considering itself rather the leading state of Russia, which the Latin West sometimes called Ruthenia.
No Ukraine on Map Until 1918
The Kiev Rus was conquered around the middle of the 1200s by the Mongols, and was thereafter ruled by a series of Mongol Khans. After the Mongol power north of the Black Sea had been shaken by the victory of the grand Duke of Moscow Dmitry Donskoi in the battle of Kulikovo on the Don in 1380, the Mongol yoke over the Kiev region began to fall away. By 1526, much of today’s Ukraine, including Kiev, was part of the very large Polish Republic, which stretched from the Baltic to near the Black Sea. Other parts of today’s Ukraine were under Moscow, while some — including the Crimea — had been incorporated into khanates of the Ottoman Empire, and a small corner had been taken by the emerging Austrian Habsburgs. Little of this had changed by the time of the peace of Westphalia in 1648. Emmanuel Bowen’s 1747 English map of Eastern Europe calls today’s Ukraine “Little Russia” (south of “White Russia,” today’s Byelorus) with “Red Russia” (south of the city of Lvov (Lwow in Polish, Lviv in Ukrainian, Lemberg in German, and Leopoli in Italian); only a very small area astride the Dnieper is labeled “Ukrain,” meaning something like “at the border.”
In the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774, Russian troops conquered the north coast of the Black Sea and much of modern Romania from the Ottoman Empire. By the 1774 Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji, the Turkish Sultan lost his status as overlord of the Black Sea Tartars, and had to allow Russian ships to transit the Straits at Constantinople in and out of the Black Sea. Soon Russia permanently acquired the Black Sea coast, and Moscow’s ability to project power into the Mediterranean, upon which the survival of civilization in Syria has largely depended, dates from this important historical turning point.
Ukraine a Potemkin Nation?
It was the Empress Catherine the Great who annexed the Crimea to the Russian Empire in 1783. Catherine’s lover Prince Potemkin (pronounced Potyomkin) was urging the Empress to undertake his so-called “Greek Project,” which amounted to the re-creation of the defunct Byzantine Empire under Russian auspices on territory conquered from the Ottomans. Catherine wanted to undertake this project in association with Joseph II, the new reforming Emperor of Austria. Catherine, Joseph, and Potemkin undertook a triumphant progress down the banks of the Dnieper River to the Crimea. Along the imperial route, legend has it that Viceroy Potemkin had set up his famous Potemkin villages, made up of one-dimensional props like a Hollywood set, and designed to give the Imperial travelers and their retinue of foreign ambassadors the impression that the territory had already been colonized and populated by Russian settlers.
Whatever the reality of the Potemkin villages, the fact that they were said to be located in Ukraine gives rise to the inevitable question: Is Ukraine a Potemkin nation, a superficial appearance without any strength or depth?
By 1795, after the final carving up of Poland, the current Ukraine remained divided among the Ottoman, Russian, and Austrian empires. The Austrian part was sometimes called Galicia, and included Lemberg/Lvov.
So where did modern Ukraine come from? The idea for constituting a modern state called Ukraine involves the historical work of Mykhailo Hrushevskyi, who attempted in the years before World War I to show the existence of a Ukrainian nation distinct from Poland and from Russia. But Hrushevskyi later proved willing to work under Soviet auspices, not insisting on an independent Ukraine. Until late in World War I, Ukraine existed primarily in the minds of romantic intellectuals who had read Hrushevskyi or the poet Taras Shevchenko. During the prewar phase, many supporters of Ukraine imagined their future as an autonomous part of the Austrian Empire, which was thought to be less oppressive than Russia or Germany.
The main impulse behind Ukrainian independence came from the German general staff and its cynical geopolitical machinations during World War I. The German general staff transported Lenin back to Russia from Switzerland, had Hitler on its payroll, and also called modern Ukraine into existence.
According to the German historian Frank Golczewski of the University of Hamburg, Imperial German officials (unlike their Austrian allies, who had long held a piece of the future Ukraine) were only vaguely aware of any movement to create Ukraine until September 1914, just after the war had broken out. At this time, self-designated Ukrainians from the Austrian Empire and refugees from the Russian Empire contacted the German foreign office and appealed for assistance. The Germans were immediately intrigued by the obvious possibilities for creating splits inside their Russian enemy. The German diplomats, after quickly studying a series of ethnographic reports to see what they were dealing with, soon began providing money for books, pamphlets, newspapers, and other propaganda motivating the need for an independent Ukraine outside of and opposed to the Russian Empire.
The Germans had been looking for subject nationalities of the Russian Empire, which they could play against the Tsar. The obvious candidates would have been the Poles, and the Germans did later create the Kingdom of Poland as a puppet state in November 1916 on territory they had conquered. But Germany had been ruling harshly and attempting to Prussianize their part of the former Poland for more than a century, and they ran the new Kingdom of Poland in a very oppressive way, so many Poles from Russia were reluctant to have anything to do with Berlin.
Germans Taught Russian Prisoners of War the Idea of Ukraine
By this time, the Germans had already taken large numbers of prisoners of war following the 1914 defeats of the Russian army. They identified about 50,000 of these POWs who based on their birthplaces and dialect might be convinced to become Ukrainians, separated out the officers and sergeants, and put the remaining proto-Ukrainians in special reeducation camps. These proto-Ukrainians were exempted from work, given better treatment, and put into classrooms, where they were given intensive courses in Ukrainian national identity, farming techniques, and the need for socialist revolution. (All of this was provided courtesy of the same Imperial German general staff which hoped to use communism and socialism to overthrow the Tsar and create chaos, hopefully knocking Russia out of the war.)
In Golczewski’s account, the POWs were not at all interested in Ukrainian history, but wanted to hear all about farming techniques and agronomy, since they hoped to benefit from the looming breakup of the large landed estates by getting their own land. The lessons in revolutionary socialism also had a lasting effect on many of them. Of the original 50,000 POWs, about 10,000 were successfully indoctrinated and were shipped back east after the Austrian army had conquered Lemberg/Lvov in June 1915, and they became a vital catalyst in the cause of Ukrainian autonomy or independence.
When the Russian czar was overthrown in February 1917, the Western parts of the Russian Empire were plunged into chaos.