Vasylenko Volodymyr *: Armed Aggression of Russia against Ukraine: Past and Present.


The study of Ukraine-Russia relations in the modern era provides grounds for establishing such a fact: since the twentieth century and to date there have been at least 6 Russia-Ukraine wars, unleashed and inspired by Russia.

The first war began after the Ukrainian Central Rada adopted the III Universal in November, 1917, which proclaimed the restoration of the Ukrainian state, though as part of the future Russian Federation. But even that fact caused a negative reaction of the Bolsheviks, Lenin, the Russian government headed by Lenin. On 4 December, 1917, they presented an ultimatum to the Central Rada and unleashed the war - they began to bring their troops into the territory of Ukraine.

That first war began on 6 December, 1917, two days after the ultimatum, and lasted until the end of April, 1918. During that time, by March, 1918, Russian troops occupied a significant part of the territory of Ukraine, but after the signing of the Brest Peace by Ukraine and recognition of Ukraine by the states of the Quadruple Alliance, the territory of Ukraine was liberated from the invaders with the help of the German and Austrian troops. It happened in April, 1918. Then came the period of the rule of Hetman Skoropadsky, which, unfortunately, ended after the defeat of Germany and Austria in World War I.

Then the second Russia-Ukraine war began. Writing off its obligations to recognize the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UPR), the Bolshevik Russian government in November, 1918 began to bring its armed forces into the territory of Ukraine. And the second Ukraine-Russia war ended in the defeat of the Bolshevik Russia - by October, 1919 all the territories of Ukraine were freed from the Bolshevik forces.

The third war began in November, 1919, and although the Bolshevik government proposed in October to negotiate with the Directory and conclude a peace treaty, the proposal was not fulfilled. It was a sort of a diplomatic "camouflage", and on 5 November, 1919, Russian Soviet troops seized Chernihiv, and on 16 December - Kyiv. That third war carried on with varying success and ended in the defeat of the UPR due to the betrayal of Poland.

Poland was an ally of Ukraine during that war. A military convention was signed between Poland and Ukraine in April, 1920, and its implementation resulted in crushing Bolshevik forces under Warsaw by concerted efforts, and then the Polish-Ukrainian forces launched an offensive after which Kyiv was liberated. But then the Poles made, so to speak, a diplomatic maneuver. More precisely, the Soviets made such a proposal, which the Poles could not refuse: they promised even greater territorial cession at the expense of Ukraine than Petliura promised, concluding a convention in 1920. October 1920 saw the signing of an armistice between Poland on the one hand and Soviet Russia, Soviet Ukraine, and Belarusssia on the other. I will speak about this story a bit later.

In short, the weakened Ukraine remained face to face with Russia and, of course, the final was very unsuccessful for Ukraine: on 21 November, 1920, the UPR army crossed the Zbruch to the territory of Poland, the UPR army soldiers were interned, the UPR government was exiled, and stayed there for a long time.

Nevertheless, the Bolshevik Russia needed mobilization: they thought that they could easily invade Ukraine and initially did not involve significant armed forces against Ukraine. But they were already fully engaged in the third war against Ukraine. 6 Soviet armies, 1 million 200 thousand bayonets strong were deployed at the end of the third war on the territory of Ukraine; i.e. the communist Leninist regime realized that the aspiration of Ukraine for freedom and independence was so strong that just slogans and propaganda (and propaganda was enormous) and even force could not keep it from going. Therefore, due to the persistent and serious struggle of Ukraine for its independence, Lenin’s government was forced to sign the Union Workers 'and Peasants' Agreement with Ukraine on 28 December, 1920. The treaty recognized sovereignty and independence of Soviet Ukraine and established the modality of relations between Russia and Ukraine, though not quite beneficial for Ukraine. However, Russia was compelled to recognize the very fact of the statehood of Ukraine.

The fourth war. No matter that the formal agreement had been concluded between Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine, the war did not stop. There were attempts to organize campaigns of the UPR army in 1921 and the enormous insurrectional struggle unfolded on the territory of Ukraine. And that was a struggle against which the communist regime was forced to use significant armed forces: units of the Red Army, special task units, special forces, the Cheka, etc. And that struggle against the rebels, that war lasted intermittently and with varying intensity until 1932, when, having used such a barbaric means as an artificial famine and starving about 7 million people to death, the communist regime managed to curb the resistance.

The Fifth War was a war that began in the early 1940's and ended in the mid-1950s. It was the suppression of the Ukrainian national liberation movement, which was headed by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and led by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. 

And finally, we are today witnessing the sixth war that Russia is waging against Ukraine. The war began on 20 February, 2014 and continues to this day. I would like to say something in this regard: if we analyze the events of these six wars that Russia conducted against Ukraine in the 20th-21st centuries, one can make the following conclusion: imperial syndrome, neglect of international law, insidiousness have been rooted in the mentality of the Russian ruling elite and many representatives of the Russian so-called "liberal-democratic" society, regardless of the existence in Russia of various political regimes and various forms of governing. It is a tendency, I would say, to plundering behaviour, which violates the fundamental rules of international law, the norms of the law of war, humanitarian law. It is rooted in mentality. And this is a very serious problem. Unfortunately, many people do not understand this not only in the West - I would say, there is a total lack of understanding of the phenomenon of Russia in the West, the nature of this state, which falls out of the circle of civilized states through its behaviour, but what is happening is not understood in Ukraine either. And this, unfortunately, is a significant fault of the Ukrainian authorities. 

In order not to sound proofless, I will give some examples. The Soviet government, pretending that it operated in a civilized way and in accordance with international law, presented an ultimatum to the Ukrainian Central Rada on 4 December, 1917. That ultimatum read that the right of the Ukrainian people to self-determination was recognized, but the Central Rada was not recognized. The Central Rada was a hostile body and a war was declared to it. Moreover, that ultimatum was synchronized with the holding of the First Congress of Soviets in Ukraine. At the Ist Congress of Soviets held in Kyiv, the Bolsheviks (the Russians who were cast here) suffered a crushing defeat, and the UPR government, called the General Secretariat, was formed. What did the Kremlin leadership do? It organized a congress in Kharkiv on 12-13 October, where its supporters from the Donetsk-Kryvyi Rih Republic were brought, the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic was proclaimed with the government, which they called the People's Secretariat for disguising, and then they were already waging a war against Ukraine under the pretext of helping the friendly government. Moreover, they were denying their participation in hostilities and committing enormous war crimes on the territory of Ukraine, exporting material values, killing, torturing, and so on. The same thing happened during the second Ukraine-Russia war. 

We may talk a lot about it, examples are abundant. We must draw appropriate conclusions from this.

 I would like to address the thesis that my colleague Valery Hrebenyuk has touched about the hybrid war. You see, the term of "hybrid war" has been put into circulation in order to mislead people. In fact, Russia is waging two wars against Ukraine: it carries out armed aggression, and the last sixth war began in February, but at the same time Russia is carrying out humanitarian aggression against Ukraine. And these are two components of the hybrid war - armed aggression and humanitarian aggression. What is humanitarian aggression? This is not only propaganda. Hostile propaganda is just the tip of the iceberg. The issue of the humanitarian war is a deeper phenomenon in its nature. The contributors to the humanitarian war are linguistic-cultural warfare, the war in the field of education, the propaganda-information warfare, the war against Ukrainian historical memory, and confessional war. These are the components of the humanitarian war, the purpose of which is the destruction of the national identity of Ukrainians, i.e., the destruction of Ukraine by other means. 

I would like to pay attention to the fact that armed aggression and even the conquest of a country that preserves its national identity is not a tragedy, such a nation will be liberated. Although if the national identity will be destroyed even without armed aggression - such a nation will perish, it will not exist. I ask you to understand this, draw conclusions, and persuade representatives of our power elite.


*Information about the author: 

Volodymyr Vasilenko, Professor of International Law, Ambassador, Honoured Lawyer of Ukraine, Representative of Ukraine to the UN Human Rights Council (2006-2010), expert of the Centre for Russian Studies.

The article has been prepared on the basis of an address at the International Conference " Violations of International Law by Russia: Implications for the World".

17.07.2018 16:00:00