The Korea Herald


[Martin Schram] Putin’s trumped-up war

By Korea Herald

Published : Aug. 29, 2022 - 05:31

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Every time Vladimir Putin’s obliging generals dispatch a soldier to the front lines of their “special military operation” in Ukraine, they give him a gift from their supreme commander.

It is a lengthy and very creative essay rewriting the history of their homeland and the country they’ll be invading. It is titled: “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” And it ends with the proud author, Vladimir Putin, leaving them with four words to inspire them as they interact with the Ukrainians far away from home:

“We are one people.”

On Wednesday, which Ukrainians celebrated as their independence day, Russia’s President Putin had his special operators commemorate their own special day — the six-month anniversary of militarily operating in Ukraine. Putin’s troops did pretty much what they have done every other day. They honored their oneness with the Ukrainians by interacting, in their usual way, with some civilian men, women, children and elderly Ukrainians:

They tried to kill at least some of them.

This time they did it with a rocket attack — a rocket targeted and calibrated to strike the train station in the town of Chaplyne, some 500 kilometers southeast of Kyiv. Russia’s rocket killed at least 25 people, including one 11-year-old child, and wounded dozens.

We remember all the other attacks of the past half-year of hell in Ukraine. We remember the horrific news after Russian operators marked their oneness with Ukrainians by targeting a maternity hospital. Also other hospitals, schools, playgrounds, and scores of apartment buildings where homes of families who looked just like the ones the attackers left behind were now reduced to rubble. Even a children’s shelter with its roof carefully marked, in case even military enemies might want to do the humane thing.

Some 10 million Ukrainians have reportedly fled their homeland to escape their mass-murdering neighbors in the last half year.

Vladimir Putin has always had a thing about Ukraine. The country was destined to be successful, a global bread basket. It infuriated him that Vladimir Lenin didn’t include it as part of Russia during the creation of the Soviet Union, but made it a separate entity. As the Brookings Institution’s renowned Russia experts Fiona Hill and Angela Stent wrote in their excellent essay in the September/October 2022 edition of Foreign Affairs, “Putin wrote that ‘Russia was robbed’ of core territory when the Bolsheviks created the Soviet Union in 1922 and established a Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.”

But then it got worse. In 1954, Russia’s new leader, Nikita Khrushchev, actually gave Ukraine a special gift — a desirable Black Sea peninsula that would periodically have a way of becoming a place where big news gets made: Crimea. Josef Stalin had brought the news to the peninsula by hosting the historic post-World War II summit with Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt in Crimea’s famous resort city of Yalta. Khrushchev thought he could earn himself a lifetime of support from Ukraine by giving them Russia’s Crimea. And that’s how Crimea became part of the Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic, with first allegiance to Kyiv, not Moscow.

But Putin can’t lay all the blame for that decision solely on Khrushchev. Harvard’s Mark Kramer, in a detailed analysis published by Washington’s Wilson Center, made clear that the Soviet Union’s entire Supreme Soviet Presidium discussed the matter at length and approved Khrushchev’s gift of Crimea to Ukraine.

According to the 1954 Presidium transcript, Kramer wrote, there were a number of references to the “unity of Russians and Ukrainians” and to the “great and indissoluble friendship” between the two peoples. Kramer added:

“One of the officials present ... Otto Kuusinen, even boasted that ‘only in our country (the United Soviet Socialist Republic) is it possible that issues of the utmost importance such as the territorial transfer of individual (entities) to a particular republic can be decided without any difficulties.’”

Fast forward: Here’s how that “great and indissoluble friendship” dissolved. Or to be more precise, how it burst in Putin’s face with the suddenness of an exploding cigar. In 2014, Ukraine’s new government rejected the idea of being limited to enhanced trade ties with Russia — and moved to develop a relationship with the European Union. Putin exploded back: He moved militarily to take back by force Khrushchev’s goodwill gift of Crimea.

Last year, Putin trumped up his own fake history by claiming neo-Nazis were taking over in Ukraine and they were planning to attack Russia. Many Russians fell for Putin’s con. They supported his Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine that he insists must be called just a “special military operation.”

So that was then. And this is bloody now.

Martin Schram
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. -- Ed.

(Tribune Content Agency)