The Holocaust We Never Knew
One need not be a visiting scholar of Modern Russian Studies to suspect why Russian President Vladimir Putin has been sniffing around the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine. The twenty-eight nations that comprise the European Union have been utilizing their European Neighborhood Policy as a means of getting the Ukraine to become number twenty-nine. One of the caveats to official membership has been the establishment of "democratic ideals" which the EU has very much found lacking with former (and future) Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The ENP calls for a constant eastern push and the Ukraine already borders with four member states (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania). It was as recent as September 2013 that Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin warned Moldovia (which would border Ukraine were it not for a theoretical and strategic stretch of land called Transnistria) not to get too chummy with the country's EU allies. The Russian government appears concerned over the prospects of the European Union destabilizing an already precarious Russian economy.
As a primarily economic entity, the EU has seen its relations with Russia under Putin deteriorate proportionately as the girth of NATO likewise encroaches. The same four EU member nations that border the Ukraine are perhaps conveniently likewise members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a community of two North American and twenty-six European countries bound by their agreement to treat an attack against one of their members to be an attack against all of their members. The former USSR has already lost eleven former members of the now defunct Warsaw Pact to NATO. The current Russian equivalent to NATO is the Collective Security Treaty Organization which presently has six members, those being Russia itself, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
As the EU and NATO press east, it is not surprising that President Putin pushes back.
You may have noticed that there are four countries in the region which are not members of either NATO or CSTO. Those countries are Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova, four countries which make up a group calling itself (and I'm not kidding) GUAM.
The Ukraine and Moldova both have very good reason to distrust Russia's recent expedition in Crimea. The seeds of that distrust were first planted in 1932 and 1933 when the USSR under Joseph Stalin purposefully and deliberately starved to death 7.5 million Ukrainians and Moldovians. This act of genocide is known as Holodomor.
Because the populations of Russia and Belarus were growing three times the rate of the Ukraine, Stalin ordered an enforced famine whereby food was first rationed and then cut off altogether, while his propagandists told city-dwellers that the peasants were hoarding food and explained to the rural communities that urban centers such as Kiev were the hoarders. Despite Stalin's efforts, not all of the 7.5 million died of starvation. Many died from typhus or malaria, while reports have surfaced that 2,500 people died as the result of cannibalism.
How exactly does someone create a forced famine?
The Ukrainian farmers of the period--many of them, at any rate--declined to join with the USSR's policy of collective farming. Stalin responded with a form of class warfare that pitted the city folks against the peasants. The police confiscated livestock, grain and land. In 1932, Stalin signed a decree mandating the arrest or execution of anyone in Ukraine caught stealing food from his own work areas. Military blockades were placed around the villages. Food was confiscated. You need food to live. At the height of the famine, 30,000 Ukrainians died every day.
In November 2006, the Ukrainian Parliament declared the Holodomor a deliberate act of genocide. The Russian government still denies this, just as Putin denies the presence of soldiers in Crimea.
And yet actions do not exist in a vacuum. They can also be somewhat predictable, unless one is a member of the CIA, in which case bets are off. Just as Russia moved against Georgia when there were rumblings about that state joining the EU, so does Russia clamor for retribution and control as Ukrainians rebel against the likes of Yanukovych. Russia wants stability--on its own terms. The nature of any organization--from book clubs to multinationals and from Boy Scouts to nations--is to maintain itself. Of course, that maintenance may require that some people view the organization differently than the organization views itself. In the same way that Stalin thought of himself as a good guy who had to do unpleasant things, so perhaps does Putin view himself as the contemporary model, a "realist" who does what he must to ward off encroachment of the motherland. Understanding the Russian President's probable self image is necessary to any negotiation process.