Russia has many narratives about why it started the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24. One of them is expressed in Putin’s November words that Russia would be forced to act if its „red lines“ on Ukraine were crossed by NATO. Russia launched a war against Ukraine calling it a „special military operation“ and saying that the weapons supplied by NATO member countries to Ukraine threaten Russia’s security. And the Kremlin also wants to „demilitarize“ and „denazify“ Ukraine arranging genocide on the territory of a sovereign and independent state. Despite this, some politicians, for instance, President Macron, continue to call Ukrainians and Russians „brothers.“ Why we have never been fraternal and what is the path of Ukraine to obtain full membership in NATO, read in this article, by Anastasiia Hatsenko.
If we start from the beginning, that is, from the moment the ethnic groups were formed, and then it is already clear here that we have different roots. Ukrainians are mostly connected to Slavic tribes. At the same time, Russians have Finno-Ugric roots. The Moscow and later Russian tsars understood that without a great past it was impossible to create a great nation, a great empire. To do this, you had to embellish your historical past and even appropriate someone else’s. Therefore, the Moscow tsars set themselves the task of creating official mythology of the Russian Empire. This could have been ignored if this mythology had not affected the fundamental interests of Ukraine. For centuries, they have tried to make people understand that the Russian state and the Russian people have their origins in the Grand Duchy of Kyiv; that Kievan Rus is the cradle of three fraternal peoples – Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian; that the Russians under the law of „elder brotherhood“ have the right to inherit Kievan Rus. However, how can we talk about an „older brother“ when this „older brother“ was born later? Thus, Kievan Rus emerged in 882, while Moscow emerged in 1147.
To appropriate the history of Kievan Rus and perpetuate this theft, the Russians had to suppress the Ukrainian people, enslave them, deprive them of their name and starve them to death. At this point, it is critical to talk about the language issue. Moscow has always tried to assure that Ukrainian and Russian languages are similar. The truth is that Ukrainians can easily understand Belarusian, Polish, Czech, and Slovak languages. However, Russians do not understand either Ukrainian or the above languages. Ukrainian is most similar to Belarusian because they have 29 common features. Ukrainian also has 23 features in common with Czech and Slovak languages.
Geographical distribution of languages common to Ukrainian
In addition to trying to show the similarities, Russia also sought to assimilate («Russify») all ethnicities it conquered from the 16th to 19th century: Ukrainians, Poles, Balts, Finns and many other nations. After Russia took most of Ukraine under control in the early 18th century, it decided to separate Ukrainian identity. Russia limited the use of the Ukrainian language using two documents. The Valuev Circular of 1863 was a secret decree of the Minister of Internal Affairs, of the Russian Empire Pyotr Valuev, by which many publications (religious, educational, and literature recommended for the use in primary literacy training of the commoners) in the Ukrainian language were forbidden. The second one was the Ems Ukaz. It was a secret decree of Emperor Alexander II of Russia issued in 1876, banning the use of the Ukrainian language in print except for reprinting old documents. When Ukraine was part of the USSR, namely since 1953 the number of Russian-language schools in Ukraine was growing at that time, and they were better off financially. The number of classes in Russian language and literature in Ukrainian-language schools increased. Instead, in Russian-language schools in Ukraine, students, at their request and the request of their parents, could be exempted from learning the Ukrainian language. In particular, such an order was established by the resolution of the Verkhovna Rada of the USSR on April 17, 1959 „On strengthening the connection between school and life and the further development of public education in the Ukrainian SSR.“ Because of «Russify» many Ukrainians are still speaking Russian, but not because of the similarity between languages.
Before 2014 and non-aligned status
Since its inception, Russian propaganda has been trying to prove that Ukrainians and Russians are one people. As far as the culture and mentality of Ukrainians and Russians differ, Ukrainian Doctors of Philology have identified 4 criteria of mentality: an attitude toward religion, nature, women and public life. Our attitude towards NATO is an example of the active participation of Ukrainians in public life and this is another indicator of our difference from the Russians.
The Prague Summit in 2002 reaffirmed Ukraine’s desire to become a member of the Alliance and adopted a NATO-Ukraine Action Plan. A meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission on 22 February 2005 at the level of Heads of State and Government took place. President Yushchenko has assured that Ukraine will continue its course towards Euro-Atlantic integration with the prospect of full membership in the North Atlantic Alliance. However, after Viktor Yanukovych became president, laws were passed that provided for a policy of non-alignment to make it impossible for Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Alliance.
Ukraine remained a non-aligned state till 2014. The Revolution of Dignity brought many changes in the political and social life of Ukrainians. The revolution broke out among the citizens of Ukraine against the illegal dispersal of a peaceful rally of students and civic activists, which began on November 21, 2013, in response to the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers to suspend preparations for the signing of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU.
The Revolution of Dignity also showed Russia that Ukrainians are choosing the path of rapprochement with Western partners, but not with the Kremlin. This dissatisfaction with the Russian leadership led to the occupation of Crimea and the start of military aggression in the Donbas region. So, in 2015 the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted On Amendments to Certain Laws of Ukraine Concerning Ukraine’s Refusal to Implement a Non-Bloc Policy. Since that time Ukraine is back to its Euro and Euro-Atlantic integration process.
Ukraine’s ‘disappointment’ in NATO (or refusal to join, as required by Russia) has recently become top on the media agenda. Ukraine asked NATO to close its sky or/and give Ukraine fighter jets. It’s difficult to say that Ukrainians are satisfied with NATO’s inaction in this sphere. Also, in March after the negotiation between Ukraine and Russia in Istanbul it was heard that one of the Ukrainian side’s suggestions is Ukraine can be secured in a non-bloc and non-nuclear status with no foreign military bases, but with security guarantees from guarantor countries (UN Security Council states+) by the principle of Article 5 of North Atlantic Treaty. Is Ukraine ready to abandon its strategic course to become a NATO member, as Russia required before the start of a full-scale invasion and requires it now, or could this be just an element of bargaining with Russia?
Abandoning Kyiv’s movement towards membership is not as easy. And it’s critical to remember that it was not NATO that caused the invasion, so refusing to join the Alliance is not enough to satisfy Putin. Moreover, Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO are enshrined in the Constitution. It is not so easy to change the Constitution at all, but it is impossible during martial law and even during a state of emergency in Ukraine. In addition, it is a rather long process, which involves voting at two sessions of the Verkhovna Rada and the conclusion of the Constitutional Court. So, it is a long process even while it is a peaceful sky over Ukraine.
At the same time, President Zelenskyy noted that such changes can only be taken into account with the consent of Ukrainians in a referendum. Again, this cannot be done when the country is at war. The logical question is, can the Ukrainians choose the option of neutrality for the country and abandon the course of joining NATO? The answer may be found if to take a look at Ukrainewide polls by Rating Group Ukraine. They show that before the full-scale invasion on February 16-17, 62% of Ukrainians supported Euro-Atlantic integration. On March 1st, 76% of Ukrainians wanted to see their country as a member of NATO.
Possibly the next polls will show less support, as even Ukrainians understand that though common exercises with NATO, intelligence sharing and arms delivery from some NATO members helps our army to be so strong. But there is still frustration in the air about NATO’s unwillingness to close the sky and hesitancy in providing fighter jets. President Zelenskyy also proposed the creation of a new organization U-24. He predicts it is to be an intergovernmental organization with the ability to immediately stop any conflicts between countries.
Meanwhile, Ukraine understands the importance of cooperation with NATO in the context of joint exercises, information exchange and Ukraine’s participation in peacekeeping missions. Therefore, we should expect that NATO will remain our strategic course, but tactically Ukraine will try to find new guarantees for its security.
Anastasiia Hatsenko, Ukrainian Euro-Atlantic cooperation Expert at the think tank ADASTRA and head of Paneuropean Youth of Kyiv Region (full title) or just Paneuropa Kyiv.
c photo: European Union 2022 Christophe Licoppe