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“What bad thing did Russia do to Ukraine?”: a Сhronicle of Enmity 1991-2014

Once, one of the Russian high-ranking officials said: “What has Russia done to Ukraine that is bad?“. This phrase became the meme of this war.

We will deliberately not tell in this text about the numerous crimes against the Ukrainians of the Russian Empire and the Soviet government: the destruction of the Cossacks, one and a half hundred bans on the Ukrainian language and culture, Muravyov’s terror, the Law of Five Ears and the Holodomor, executed renaissance generation, the blowing up of the Dnipro HPP, deportations, covering up the Chornobyl disaster and many others. We will focus on the events after the collapse of the USSR, when Russia supposedly established friendly relations with Ukraine for years, to which the Ukrainians, of course, responded with black ingratitude.

Division of the inheritance of the USSR

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the question of the distribution of property and external debts of the Soviet state among the newly formed countries arose. In 1991, the “Contract on Legal Succession Regarding External State Debt and Assets of the USSR” was signed in Moscow. The document determined the share of each state — the most significant share was in the Russian Federation (61%) and Ukraine (16%). This meant that Kyiv had to pay 16% of the USSR’s debts, but also was supposed to receive 16% of its assets.

However, later, Russia began to sign the so-called “zero option” with other countries – they renounced the foreign property of the Soviet Union in exchange for the fact that the Russian Federation paid off all Soviet debts. The Ukrainian parliament did not ratify such an agreement. “The Ukrainian side requested that Russia provide a complete list of all foreign property of the USSR and its value, which the Russian Federation did not do,” explained the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Volodymyr Ogryzko in a conversation with DW. According to him, Russia did not want to reveal data on the foreign assets of the USSR, because these assets were much more than debts.

Diplomat and international expert Yaroslav Voitko estimated that only the USSR’s diamond fund and gold reserves were worth about $100 billion. In addition, the Soviet Union’s assets also included currency funds and resources, investments and stakes in foreign banks, immovable and movable property abroad, and debts and financial obligations of debtors – in general; these are hundreds of billions of dollars. At the same time, the external debt of the USSR amounted to only $96 billion. However, all these years, Moscow did not come forward in this matter and kept all the assets of the USSR for itself.


Ukraine has negotiated borders with Russia for more than a decade. Only in 2003 presidents Leonid Kuchma and Vladimir Putin signed an agreement on the state border, and within a year, the parliaments of both countries ratified it. In addition, in 1997, the parties signed the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership. Its art. 2 reads as follows: “The High Contracting Parties, by the provisions of the UN Charter and obligations under the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, respect each other’s territorial integrity and confirm the inviolability of the existing borders between them.”

However, here it is worth recalling another quote by Otto von Bismarck, the creator of German statehood: “Agreements with Russia are not worth the paper they are written on.” Although the Russian Federation has repeatedly publicly recognized the territorial integrity of Ukraine and guaranteed the absolute inviolability of borders, this did not prevent it from seizing Crimea in 2014 and starting a hybrid war in Donbas.

Although, in reality, there were attempts to encroach on the Ukrainian lands even before that. Also in 2003, when the agreement on the state border was signed, the Russian Federation began building a dam towards the Ukrainian island of Tuzla, located in the Kerch Strait between Crimea and the Taman Peninsula. Only after numerous negotiations did the construction stop, when about 100 meters remained between the builders and the Ukrainian border guards.

Attack on fishermen

On July 17, 2013, it became known about the collision of a Ukrainian fishing boat with a Russian Coast Guard boat. Four out of five Ukrainians on board died. In the clip, shot by one of the Russian border guards, you can hear the words spoken already after the ram: “Come on a couple more times and f*** them; they are almost covered with water!”

The only fisherman who survived also confirms the deliberate attack: “They chased us like I don’t know who: they cut us down, poured water on our boat, and, in addition, they fired at us! And then, when we tried to leave, they somehow went into a head-on encounter with us. The helmsman tried to avoid the collision, but they put their side on us. The collision occurred. And they write that it’s as if we rammed them.” The wounded Ukrainian citizen was taken to the Russian Federation and forced to agree to a non-exit signature.

The Russians accused the fishermen of poaching. However, their only evidence was some nets that the border guards found somewhere only two days after the collision. It is unknown whom they belonged to. Only in November was Ukraine able to secure the release of their citizen.

Trade wars

Even before 2014, the Russian Federation waged wars with Ukraine — although, then, only trade wars. For example, on New Year’s Day 2005, Moscow cut off gas supplies. Prolonged negotiations led to almost twice an increase in fuel price, and controversial intermediaries appeared in the scheme – for example, the pro-Russian oligarch Dmytro Firtash. The next time the gas war began was in the winter of 2008-2009. The third such trade conflict occurred in 2013-14. In addition, we can recall restrictions on trade in dairy products, the “Cheese War” of 2012 or the “Chocolate War” of 2013. And in August of the same 2013, the Russian customs generally included all Ukrainian importers in the “at risk” list and set up a kind of blockade of all imports from Ukraine.

In these cases, there is something in common – Moscow went to trade wars when Ukraine demonstrated its independence: from the victory of Viktor Yushchenko in the presidential elections or the support of Georgia in the war with the Russian Federation in 2008 to the attempts of rapprochement with the EU. Economic relations have always been, for the Russian Federation, not only business and partnership but also a way to influence the policy of an independent state. However, did the Russian authorities ever consider Ukraine a state?


In 1993, when Ukraine and Russia had been independent states for two years, the Russian parliament declared Ukrainian Sevastopol a Russian city. Ukraine and the UN Security Council protested, and in the end, Moscow gradually forgot about this decision.

However, this was far from the only example of how over the years, the Russian Federation neglected official agreements and the status of Ukraine. For example, back in 2008, at a closed Russia-NATO meeting, according to eyewitnesses, Putin told the then US President George W. Bush: “You understand, George, Ukraine is not even a state. What is Ukraine? Part of its territory is Eastern Europe, and a significant part is our gift.”

That is, the authorities of the Russian Federation never actually perceived Ukraine as another state. However, Moscow did not have enough strength to prepare for a severe attack on independence for a long time. The confrontation and shooting of the parliament in 1993, criminalization, the Chechen wars, terrorist attacks, hyperinflation, the default of 1998, and inciting or interfering in conflicts in Moldova, Tajikistan, and Georgia were enough other cases.

However, since the mid-2000s, the Russian Federation has actively taken up the destabilization of Ukraine. One of the most vivid examples is Sievierodonetsk and the so-called All-Ukrainian Congress of People’s Deputies and Deputies of Local Councils in November 2004. Then, with the support of Russian officials, for example, the mayor of Moscow, Yuriy Luzhkov, the participants announced their disobedience to the Ukrainian authorities and the threat to create a “Southeastern Ukrainian Autonomous Republic.”

After 2004, Moscow formed a whole network of anti-Ukrainian organizations in Ukraine: political, church, and paramilitary. “The main task … was to prove the artificiality of the Ukrainian nation and the doom of the Ukrainian state, which never happened. Myths spread among Ukrainians about right-wing unity with the Russian people, about the so-called “three-unit, artificially divided Russian people,” the advantages of joining either the new Russian Empire or the USSR-2 “under the brilliant leadership of V. Putin,” and at the same time, the failure was proven of the Ukrainian elites to lead an independent state, their corruption, inability to find compromises, etc. was pedaled,” explained Volodymyr Horbulin, the first ever secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine.

An attack on Ukraine was tested even during military exercises. So, in September 2013, the joint training of the Russian Federation and Belarus “Zapad-2013” took place. According to their plot, the opposition began to oppose Ukraine’s authorities actively, so Moscow and Minsk introduced their armed forces into the territory of another state. Ultimately, all this long preparation led to the invasion of Ukraine becoming a reality.


To spread Russian narratives, not only political manipulation and mass media were used, but also culture and entertainment: cinema, show business, and literature. Russia used to buy Ukrainian stars, and Moscow reacted as aggressively as possible to any attempts to support the Ukrainian language and culture in Ukraine itself. The informational contexts of the Russian Federation and Ukraine merged as actively as possible. To unite by common interests and then to take over physically is an obvious tactic.

At the same time, Ukrainians have been portrayed in a rather specific way in Russian mass culture for a long time. Among the most popular options are dimwitted, cheerful people who like to drink and sing. Here, for example, is the film “In the Steppes of Ukraine” from 1952 – the head of the collective farm called Galushko is a fat and stupid goof. There is a similar image in a kind of ode to the Russian army, “The 9th Company”. And in the series “My Beautiful Nanny,” the main character is from Ukrainian Mariupol – she is vulgar, not very smart, and speaks with a funny accent.

Another version of the archetype is collaborators, cowards, or criminals. In “Brother-2”, a cult for Russians, Ukrainians are the mafia. The pathetic “Admiral” depicts traitors who surrendered their land to the Germans. Ukrainians do roughly the same thing in “Match” or “We from the Future-2”. And “Taras Bulba” is an audacious appropriation of someone else’s history, where the Ukrainian Cossacks speak Russian and praise the “Russian soul.”

All these films were released before 2014. After the start of the war, propaganda in popular cinema, of course, did not stop. “T-34”, “Crimea,” “Crimean Bridge,” “Viy,” “Gogol,” “Salvation Union” – here Ukrainians are either clumsy misfits with a funny pronunciation or weaklings and traitors, and Ukrainian culture is backward and comical.


Due to the imperial mindset built up over decades and even centuries, Russians often perceive Ukraine as only an extension of Russia — as something of their own, native, supposedly connected by many ties. In the Russian Federation, they always emphasized the commonality between the so-called “fraternal nations,” ignoring the fact that conquest, terror, and repression were often the cause of this commonality. At the same time, numerous differences in history, culture, and mentality were ignored or labeled as artificial, frivolous, or radically nationalistic.

For centuries, Moscow tried to destroy the “Ukrainianness” of Ukraine. During the last decades, to prepare the economic, cultural, and military foundations for a new attack on independence. An attack that eventually became the most significant war on the planet since World War II.


Authors Jurij Marchenko and Olga Fіlіpova, PLATFOR.MA. The article was prepared for publication by volunteers from the Res Publica - The Center for Civil Resistance.


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