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Francisco Veiga narrates the history behind the conflict in Ukraine

22 Dec 2022
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With an allusion to both the current year and Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22, UAB Modern History Professor Francisco Veiga recently published Ucrania 22 (Aliança), an essay in which he describes the political and historical context of the last years of the Soviet Union up until the present day in relation to the conflict which erupted in the Ukraine. The author provides a vast report to help understand the causes behind the conflict and each of the sides' reasons for intervening.

Ucrania 22

The "Catch 22" which has led to the current situation refers to the errors in diplomacy and policies conducted by Western powers in the years prior to Russia's attack on Ukraine. As Veiga affirms in the last chapter of his book, this is "a false solution to any problem by tackling it from the most absurd bureaucratisation" (p. 289). He continues with a more detailed explanation: "The Catch 22 was a Yanukovich and a Ukraine that had no way of getting out of either signing the association agreement with the European Union or with Russia to become part of the Euroasian Customs Union. (...) The Catch 22 were the Minsk agreements which were destined to not be followed and to prolong the civil war in Ukraine until connecting it with the Russian intervention. But the Catch 22 was also the sanctions against Russia which turned the European Union into a hostage in the conflict between Moscow and Washington, at the same level as Ukraine" (p. 290).

Before reaching the specific context of today's conflict, Veiga's essay mainly focuses on retracing US interventions in the series of political convulsions and conflagrations which occurred in Eastern Europe since the fall of the Soviet Union, an event which was not passively observed by Washington, but was rather a process in which George Bush's government played a much more active role than previously thought, with fluid communication being set up with Boris Yeltsin already in the last years of the Soviet Union.

It was precisely during the breakdown of the Soviet superpower that the crucial role of nationalisms was consolidated with the aim of forcing political crises, changes in power and armed conflicts: Ucrania 22 reminds us that from 1991 up until today, Eastern Europe has experienced uprisings such as the Colour Revolution or conflicts arising from the breakup of Yugoslavia or those of Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, Moldavia and South Ossetia. In this context, Ukraine was always viewed by American analysts and diplomats as a crucial region in limiting the power and influence of Russia and therefore, the objective had always been to incorporate it into the European Union and NATO: "The war that broke out in February 2022 was Putin's war, no doubt about it; but it was also Biden's war" (p. 215).

Veiga describes the independence of Ukraine, which since 1991 until now has been made up of a volatile and complex system of political parties and an influential and corrupt oligarchic class. The Maidan Uprising of 2014, which at first expressed the population's frustration with their political leaders, consequently led to the growth of right-wing extremists and neo-Nazi groups: "Ukraine's far-right had a very decisive influence on the strategy and timing of the Maidan Uprising" (p. 120) which represented but a mere minority of the population, but was essential in the violent turn of events.

Both in the Donbas war and the current Russo-Ukrainian War, groups such as the famous Azov Battalion are on the frontline and are an integrated part of Ukraine's Armed Forces ("the attitude of political leaders and a good part of the Western press with regard to such an anomalous situation was one of the most dangerous original sins committed by giving support to the Ukrainian regime that formed after the Maidan Uprising", p. 140). Moreover, Veiga also relates how within a complex international circle of far-right groups, the pro-Western position of Volodimir Zelenski's government has led to some of these extremist groups identifying with Russia and which in some cases, has made them change sides during the war to fight alongside Russian far-right groups and Nazbols (National Bolsheviks).

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