By Aidan Morales
Kiev, Ukraine – With 100,000 Russian troops on the border looking within, Ukraine finds itself in a difficult situation. In March of 2014, Russian troops moved into and annexed Crimea into the Russian Federation without approval from the Ukrainian government or the Ukrainian-identifying people who inhabited the region. This was done via Russian troops lacking any insignia marching into the Crimean parliament building and occupying strategic sites. Ukraine, too busy with the civil war crisis (that Russia actively supports), was unable to defend or retake it. As of now, it seems Moscow has more plans for the Ukraine. With the international community looking to Moscow for comments, Russia has claimed that there are no plans of invasion and that they can move troops anywhere they want. Putin claims any military movement is purely defensive. However, alongside this comment, Putin has warned NATO about expanding eastward and that a NATO-aligned Ukraine would be unacceptable.
Putin has long claimed that the Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarussians are one people. By this, he means that they are all Russians. While historically this is true, regional nationalism following the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has divided the old lands of the former Russian Empire. Originating from both Muscovy and Novgorod, Russian nationalism has been a force to reckon with in the past, making these political moves by Putin unsurprising. Despite the efforts of Russia, Ukraine has survived two revolutions and is currently fighting a civil conflict, backed by Russian troops and money. With thousands killed and millions displaced, it looks like Putin’s efforts of a united “Russian civilization” seem counterproductive and outright detrimental.
However, this conflict is far from black and white or good and evil. In order to stave off the Russian-backed separatists, the Ukrainian government has had to side with neo-nazi and nationalist paramilitary groups. These groups, often filled with Neo-Nazis from around the world and Ukraine, have dominated the Ukrainian political sphere and some have even become official groups within the military. The “Azov Battalion,” a far-right paramilitary group, was integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard as the “Azov Special Operations Battalion.” Functioning as military police, the Azov Battalion has infiltrated and is spreading its views across the already nationalistic Ukrainian military. This makes it hard for some Ukrainians to support either side, with both sides committing war crimes and preaching their own ideologies. For most Ukrainians, it seems to be a choice of the lesser evil – their sovereignty. Is this an act of war from Moscow or is it a desperate attempt to gain a better approval rating by blind Russian nationalists? Either way, Ukraine’s future remains unclear.