Why is Russia so adamant about annexing an independent Ukraine?

As Russian troops continue to build up along the country’s border with Ukraine, heightened tensions have brought to mind the turbulent but critical history between the two nations.

Ukraine’s struggle for freedom even partially arose out of Russia’s own history. Led for centuries by a number of historic empires, a strong Ukrainian independence movement swept through the region after the start of the Russian Revolution in 1917.

A sovereign Ukrainian republic was declared later that year.

After World War II, Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union until its eventual dissolution in 1991, after which the country gained full independence.

However, the former Soviet state apparently never lost its desire to take back the Ukrainian nation that was once theirs. This is despite the Kremlin insisting that Russia will not invade Ukraine, despite continued militarization along the border.

“Russia’s aggression in Ukraine triggered the biggest security crisis in Europe since the Cold War,” the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) said.

“Today, [Ukraine] is at the forefront of a renewed rivalry between great powers which, according to many analysts, will dominate international relations in the decades to come “, added the CFR.

Russia was drawn to Ukraine, experts say, because of the deep historical ties that are still shared between the two countries.

“Russia has deep cultural, economic and political ties with Ukraine, and in many ways Ukraine is central to Russia’s identity and vision in the world,” CFR said. “Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, is sometimes referred to as the ‘mother of Russian cities’, on par in terms of cultural influence with Moscow and St. Petersburg.”

Russia appears to be preparing for a possible invasion of Ukraine. Here, the skyline of the Ukrainian capital Kiev can be seen in an archive photo.
iStock / Getty

It was also noted that Russia is probably very concerned about the welfare of the roughly eight million Russians living in Ukraine.

Developing country ranked 74th on the Human Development Index, Ukraine is one of the poorest countries in Europe. It also faces significant struggles against government corruption, as well as continuing cycles of poverty among many of its citizens.

“The prevalence of a culture of poverty is not only a negative social phenomenon, but a long-term danger,” Vox Ukraine said of the nation’s conditions.

Beyond seeking the interests of its people, Russia also has a number of other strategic reasons for wanting to annex Ukraine, according to the CFR.

This includes pressure from the Russian government to maintain significant political influence over Ukraine and the former Soviet Union as a whole. The country has already reclaimed the predominantly culturally Russian Crimean land in 2014.

Some experts also highlighted Russia’s actions in 2008 after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expressed interest in adding Ukraine as one of its members.

NATO pressure in favor of Ukraine angered Russian President Vladimir Putin, who told the United States that these actions would lead to new hostility. This ultimately led to a Russian war against the country of Georgia, which NATO had also expressed interest in adding to its ranks.

Despite international concerns that a Russian invasion is on the horizon, the Kremlin continues to deny that it will happen.

Either way, President Joe Biden has stated that a presence of US troops in Ukraine will not take place. However, Biden reiterated his support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a phone call Thursday.

News week has contacted the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry for comment.

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