Historical and Cultural Ties between Russia and Ukraine
The relationship between Russia and Ukraine is complex and goes back centuries. Historically, Ukraine was a part of the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union. Many Russians still view Ukraine as an integral part of their country, and Ukraine’s large Russian-speaking population reinforces this perception.
In addition to historical ties, there are cultural similarities between Russia and Ukraine. Both countries share a Slavic heritage and Orthodox Christianity. Ukrainian cuisine, music, and literature have also been influenced by Russian culture, and vice versa.
Despite these similarities, the relationship between Russia and Ukraine has been strained in recent years. Ukraine’s decision to move closer to the West and pursue closer ties with the European Union and NATO has been seen as a threat by Russia, which views Ukraine as within its sphere of influence. This has led to conflict between the two countries, including the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia and ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Strategic Importance of Ukraine for Russia’s National Security
Ukraine’s strategic location makes it important for Russia’s national security. Ukraine shares a long border with Russia, and a large part of Russia’s military infrastructure is located in the country. Russia also uses ports in Ukraine, including Sevastopol in Crimea, which is home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
In addition to its geographic importance, Ukraine is also a key transit country for Russian natural gas exports to Europe. Ukraine has long been dependent on Russian energy exports, and Russia has used this dependence as a tool for political leverage.
Russia sees Ukraine as a buffer zone between itself and NATO, which has been expanding eastward since the end of the Cold War. The prospect of Ukraine joining NATO is a major concern for Russia, which fears encirclement by the military alliance.
Given these strategic considerations, Russia sees Ukraine as critical to its national security and will likely continue to assert its influence in the country.
Energy Dependence and Pipeline Politics
Russia has long used its control of energy exports to exert influence over Ukraine and other neighboring countries. Ukraine is a key transit country for Russian natural gas exports to Europe, and the two countries have had a complicated relationship over energy supplies.
In the past, Russia has cut off gas supplies to Ukraine during disputes over pricing and payment, which has led to shortages in Ukraine and other European countries. These actions have had political and economic consequences, as Europe has become increasingly reliant on Russian natural gas exports.
To bypass Ukraine as a transit country, Russia has been building alternative pipelines, such as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will carry gas directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea. This has been a major point of contention between Russia, Ukraine, and other European countries.
The control of energy supplies is a major tool for Russia’s political influence, and Ukraine is a key player in this geopolitical game.
Geopolitical Competition with the West
Russia’s competition with the West for influence in Eastern Europe is a major factor in its desire to maintain control over Ukraine. Ukraine’s decision to move closer to the European Union and NATO has been seen as a threat by Russia, which views the country as within its sphere of influence.
Russia has accused the West of meddling in Ukrainian affairs and supporting anti-Russian sentiment in the country. This has led to tensions between Russia and the West, and has been a major driver of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Russia sees Ukraine as a key battleground in its competition with the West, and has been willing to use military force to maintain its influence. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 and ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine are examples of Russia’s willingness to assert its power in the region.
The geopolitical competition between Russia and the West is likely to continue, and Ukraine will remain a critical point of contention.
Domestic Political Considerations in Russia
Russia’s desire to maintain influence over Ukraine is also driven by domestic political considerations. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 was popular among Russians, and helped to bolster President Putin’s domestic support.
Russia’s actions in Ukraine have also been used to distract from domestic problems and to paint Russia as a strong and powerful country on the world stage. This has been particularly important for Putin, who has portrayed himself as a strong leader who can defend Russia’s interests against the West.
In addition, the conflict in Ukraine has provided an opportunity for Russia to demonstrate its military strength and modernization efforts. This has been important for Russia’s military and defense industry, which has been a major priority for the government in recent years.
Overall, domestic political considerations have played a significant role in Russia’s desire to maintain influence over Ukraine. As long as the conflict in eastern Ukraine continues, it is likely that Russia will continue to assert its power in the region to maintain domestic support and distract from domestic problems.