Dr. Jerome Sheridan opened the lecture noting that the topic, which was originally planned last November as a warning, had turned into an explanation of what is happening today regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and that “one cannot escape geography or history.” Russia’s “near abroad,” is caught between the West and the East.
After the Bolsheviks seized power and destroyed the tradition of czarist rule in Russia, authoritarianism and the military remained constant, and Russia became a communist state. Communism sought to control every aspect of one’s life, so what mattered was not what you knew as much as who you knew, leading to major corruption throughout the country. Decades later in 1991, the USSR collapsed, and former republics began to recognize each other’s independence. But 200 years of history cannot be wiped away in 30 years, and those countries which want to be part of the West still have a long way to go to get there.
In 1994, the Budapest Memorandum was signed, and Ukraine turned over its nuclear arsenal with security guarantees from Russia, Britain, and the USA. And up until 2014, the West believed it was building a positive relationship with Russia, (although Europe was more divided in thinking that because of its energy dependence on Russia, and the fact that some countries were living under the Warsaw Pact). The EU and NATO were serving Russia’s interests as well by inviting Russia to join the G8, working together with Russia to end the war in Bosnia in 1995, giving Russia a “voice” in NATO, and creating a joint space program. The USA and Europe were hoping that these steps would lead to Russia being part of the West as well.
However, NATO bombed Yugoslavia (without the support of the United Nations) until Milosevic capitulated, and Russia agreed as to how Kosovo would be governed. Russian President Boris Yeltsin thought he was building a positive relationship with the USA. But did the Russian people? Did the Duma? In 1999, Yeltsin handed over power to Vladimir Putin, who began governing as a reformer. Putin had been a former member of the KGB and also Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg, but had lost faith in the Communist system. Early on, Putin accepted and signed the agreements for the initial enlargement of NATO, and in 2001, President George W. Bush found Putin to be “straightforward and trustworthy.”