In the early morning of February 24, as the first bombs dropped by Russian planes touched down on Ukrainian soil, the Russian president appeared on television to announce the start of the invasion. Sitting at his desk, against a backdrop of the Russian flag, he announced the start of a “military operation” aiming to “denazify Ukraine”. In the rhetoric of the master of the Kremlin, this is aimed at the government in Kiev: he wishes to change his orientation which has led him, for thirty years, to move further and further away from Russia.
It was on August 24, 1991 that Ukraine took its freedom. At the time, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, anxious to oust Gorbachev, agreed with his Ukrainian and Belarusian counterparts to dismantle the USSR… Ukrainian independence was ratified by a referendum on 1er December 1991, at 90%. The “yes” is the majority, including in the Crimea and the Donbass.
Very quickly, the first difficulties appeared with Russia. We must agree on the price of gas delivered by Russia and especially on the sharing of the Black Sea fleet, based in the port of Sevastopol, in Crimea. Russia claims the use of this military port; Ukraine wants its share of the Soviet fleet. Kiev and Moscow agree to rent the port for twenty-five years… Ukraine takes four years to acquire a new Constitution, then a currency, the hryvniafrom the name of the old motto which was current in the XIand century in the great principality of Kiev…
At the time, Ukraine was struggling to assert itself and choose its destiny. It is torn between a part of the population, in the south-east of the country, which feels attached to the Soviet past, and another part, further west, which wishes to follow in Poland’s footsteps to get closer to the ‘Europe. These two camps confronted each other for the first time in 2004, during the “Orange Revolution”, a protest that lasted two months, day and night, in the middle of winter, on Independence Square in Kiev. It brings to power President Viktor Yushchenko, a pro-European.
Under his leadership, Ukraine is reconnecting with its roots and increasingly claiming its culture and language. Viktor Yushchenko also opens the archives of the former KGB and inaugurates a memorial for the Holodomor, the artificial famine caused in 1933 by Stalin which caused the death of 4 to 6 million Ukrainians. He asks that this tragedy be recognized as a “genocide”. It is still a subject of confrontation with Russia which refuses the qualifier.
Then in 2010, this time it was eastern Ukraine that won the presidential election: Viktor Yanukovych, a native of Donbass, came to power. He turned to Russia, which offered to join a customs union. This choice provoked a second revolution, in November 2013. On this same Independence Square, in Kiev, the confrontation was more violent this time. She kills more than a hundred. The dispute won despite everything in February 2014, while Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia. A pro-European government settles again in Kiev, while Russia denounces a ” Rebellion “ led by a “Nazi Junta”.
From there dates the real fracture between Russia and Ukraine. Vladimir Putin reacted by annexing the Crimean peninsula, in the South, an operation smoothly carried out by special forces without insignia who seized the local parliament and made the deputies vote behind closed doors, before organizing a referendum. At the time, Ukraine was barely recovering from its revolution and was unable to react. Then, Russia organized the destabilization of the territories of eastern Ukraine, with the dispatch of “armed volunteers” Venus ” Help “ local populations.
This time, the Ukrainian army manages to contain the separatists in a reduced area around the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk. The front line is stabilizing thanks to an agreement negotiated in Minsk, in February 2015, with the help of François Hollande and Angela Merkel. But the war settles in Ukraine. Along the 500 km front line, Russian-backed separatists regularly exchange fire with the Ukrainian army.
Despite the cost of this war, Ukraine resumed its march forward. She puts down the last statues of Lenin. It clearly affirms, henceforth, its choice to consolidate its independence and to get closer to Europe, even to enter NATO. Petro Poroshenko, a wealthy entrepreneur, is elected president.
The European Union offers Kiev an association agreement which opens the door to its market. The Ukrainians obtain to be able to circulate in Europe without visa. Ukraine’s entire economy is turning westward, while trade with Russia is shrinking. More than 40% of Ukrainian exports go to the EU today. The new Ukrainian president elected in 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky, maintains this orientation.
In thirty-one years of independence, Ukraine has gone through many upheavals. But it has become an internationally recognized state, a partner of Europeans and the United States, a relatively stable country, often criticized for its level of corruption, but democratic and where freedom of expression and pluralism reign. A chapter that Russia is obviously trying to close by force, to open another that promises to be much more chaotic.