Daily Briefs

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26 January 2022, Wednesday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #108

Profile of Ukraine: Looking into history, political demography and ethnic composition 

Russia-Ukraine tensions to cause high inflation; Belarusian railway hacked by ‘Cyberpartisans’ to deter Russian troops; Australia to provide Europe with LNG if Russia cuts gas supply


By Padmashree Anandhan

Profile of Ukraine: Looking into history, political demography and ethnic composition 

Following World War I, Ukrainian territory was split into four. While the eastern flank remained under Soviet Ukraine, Romania occupied Bukovina (Central or Eastern Europe), while Transcarpathia (Westernmost) became part of Czechoslovakia and Poland merged Galicia and Volhynia along with few other smaller areas in the north west.

The History

Ukraine, in the interwar period, was dominated by the Communists, Poles, Romanians, and Hungarians. Soviet Ukraine’s two main challenges in this period was dealing with the New Economic Policy (NEP) introduced by Vladmir Lenin and the Russification process. With the launch of the NEP, industrialization and urban population flourished in Soviet Ukraine; however, along with collectivization rules came the famine which emptied out many Ukrainian villages. The policy of Russification, launched by the Soviet regime, gave rise to the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) that was led by Stalin-loyalists which was later taken over by CPU First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev. Russification suppressed all forms of Ukrainian culture and approved numerous arrests, executions and decimations of Ukraine elites, intellectuals and writers. All of this had emerged as the first step towards Ukrainization. In the West, the Polish, Romanians and Hungarian also followed similar trails with repressive measures against the Ukrainian language, education system, and organizations. These factors became the cause for the rise of nationalism amongst the Ukrainian population, ethnic, cultural and religious groups.

During World War II and its aftermath, the major actors in Ukraine were the Nazi Germans, Soviet partisans, and Poles. While close to 1.5 million Ukrainians along with those of Jewish descent perished due to the countless killings, around 800,000 were displaced following German territorial occupation. The Battle of Stalingrad brought Ukraine completely under the control of the Red Army leading to its western borders being redrawn; for the first time, Polish-Ukrainian borders saw a clear ethnic and political composition. 

In the post-war period, Ukraine was led by four prominent Soviet leaders, Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, Shelest and Shcherbytsky who revolutionized the regional demography, economy, politics, language and culture. The most prominent among them were Stalin and Khrushchev. Stalin in his last years, brought back totalitarian controls (Russification) and enforced Sovietization. Thousands of Ukrainian nationalists were deported to concentration camps and scholars who wrote patriotic themes against the Germans were expelled as their work was destroyed alongside cultural institutions of the anti-cosmopolitan campaign. Under the leadership of Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, the voice of Ukraine was made to sound louder. Although the primary leadership roles in the Communist Party belonged to Soviets, Khrushchev made exceptions by letting a few Soviet-loyal Ukrainians also hold them. Apart from this, it led to a steady increase in the Ukrainian party membership from 28 to 60 per cent as the decentralization policy was implemented to augment powers of the Ukrainian party in the administration and economic aspects.

As the economic situation deteriorated in the late 1980s, the new leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s launch of economic campaigns ‘perestroika’ and ‘glasnost’ only deteriorated the economy leading to mass movements amongst the republics which took place from the Baltic, Transcaucasian, to Ukraine. In the next few years, Ukraine saw an emergence of new parties, leaders, Ukrainian being declared as the official language, restoration of public awareness on historical events along with nationalist revival being at its peak. At the same time, the Ukrainians also faced resistance from the CPU. On 01 December 1991, following the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine gained independence and agreed to establish the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

In the post-independence period, Ukraine along with other republics faced various challenges in terms of economic, political and military instability as well as a threat to sovereign territory. In the lens of Russia, CIS was still an option to pull back its lost territories. There was also the issue of dealing with Russia's influence. Infiltrating the population was a well-known strategy of Russians and handling this was a major problem for Ukraine. Further, the dilemma of engaging with the West was worrisome as Ukraine feared engaging with the West or pursuing membership into the EU or NATO would aggravate Russia. Since it still depended on Russia for financial strengthening and economic building, Ukraine was forced to adopt a “checks and balances” policy. This ensured a balance in relations with the West and Russia, all the while keeping its sovereignty undisturbed.

Ethnic composition

Previously, Ukraine’s population consisted primarily of Jews and Poles in the Right Bank region (west of the Dnieper River). By late 19th century, the Jewish population increased to 10 million in the Ukrainian territory; however, the Holocaust led to a huge number either migrating or being killed. After World War II, Ukraine consisted of only around 150,000 ethnic Poles as the majority of the Polish went back to Poland. In 1991, when Ukraine was still a part of the USSR, two migration policies were in place. A policy of Russian in-migration and Ukrainian out-migration; under this, the population decreased in Ukraine going from 77 per cent to 73 per cent. This scenario reversed after the independence of Ukraine with three-fourth of ethnic Ukrainians settling in Ukraine; meanwhile, the Russian population stayed back, becoming the largest minority in Ukraine. The historical ethnic groups like the Belarusians, Moldovans, Bulgarians, Poles, Hungarians, Romanians and the Crimean Tatars also remained in fractions as they were allowed to return in late 1980 to Ukraine.

Present-day Ukraine 

From the historical backdrop, the following trends can be drawn by comparing with the contemporary conflict situation.

First, historic linkage. Amongst the other ex-USSR republics, Ukraine had the potential to be in equal power with the USSR in terms of territory, resource, talent and state administration. With years of developments in the region and with Russia seeking to reunite its historical links, Ukraine has become the target of Russia.

Second, decline in dependency. After the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine was a new-born state with domestic instability and no external relations. It had to rely on Russia for economic and security needs as it was the only country it had relations with. The dependency has now reversed in over three decades through economic evolution and with a massive boost to its relations with the West. 

Third, the increased role of the West. The role of the US or the EU with reference to Ukraine was largely absent in history. Ukraine has since increased the West’s participation in the region due to the implementation of a strategic foreign policy.


Yerofeyev, Ivan Alekseyevich, Hajda, Lubomyr A., Kryzhanivsky, Stepan Andriyovich, Stebelsky, Ihor,  Makuch, Andrij and Zasenko, Oleksa Eliseyovich. "Ukraine," Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 June 2021.

Mark Kramer, “Why Did Russia Give Away Crimea Sixty Years Ago?,” Wilson Center, 2014.

Kundu, Nivedita Das, “Russia and the Former Soviet States: Dynamics of Relations.” Policy Perspectives, 2007.



By Ashwin Dhanabalan and Joeana Cera Matthews


Kremlin includes Navalny in “terrorist” list 

On 25 January, Russia’s Federal Service for Financial Monitoring added Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to a database of "terrorists and extremists." This implies that Navalny is now in the same category as other right-wing nationalist organizations like Afghanistan's militant Islamist Taliban and the extremist "Islamic State" (IS) group. The decision comes in the backdrop of Putin’s attempts to dull down dissent. Nine other members of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation are also said to be added to this list; earlier in January, Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov who aided Navalny were also included in the same. On the same day, Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) called for Navalny's brother Oleg Navalny to be jailed for provoking people to violate COVID-19 restrictions. (“Russia adds Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to ′terrorist′ list,” Deutsche Welle, 25 January 2022)


Germany: President Macron meets Chancellor Scholz

On 25 January, French President Emmanuel Macron met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during the former’s visit to Berlin. The two leaders discussed the Ukraine conflict and mentioned how France and Germany were ready to dialogue with Russia. Macron commented on the US-Russia talks and said they were a "good thing,"despite being inconclusive. He also said: "We are preparing in parallel a joint reaction and the response in case of aggression." Scholz added: "We expect from Russia clear steps that contribute to a de-escalation of the situation. We are all in agreement that a military aggression will trigger heavy consequences." Scholz's comments reaffirmed Germany’s support to Ukraine as mixed signals were sent when it previously refused to sell weapons to Kyiv. ("Macron says Europe is preparing 'common response' in case of Russian aggression," France24, 25 January 2022; "Macron says cost to Russia will be 'very high' if it attacks Ukraine," Euronews, 25 January 2022)


Russia-Ukraine tensions to cause high inflation for an extended period

On 25 January, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released a statement that claimed the escalated conflict between Russia and Ukraine would lead to higher inflation for an extended period. IMF's Deputy Managing Director Gita Gopinath said the situation was different from the Crimean annexation which saw a fall in energy prices and a low demand for shale gas. However, Gopinath maintained that “if this conflict were to happen, you would see an increase in energy prices”. The 2015 sanctions imposed on Russia contracted its economy by 3.7 per cent, while currently, it is aimed to grow at 2.8 per cent without the forecast of a military conflict. As reported by Reuters: "Gopinath told…that an escalation of the conflict and potential Western sanctions on Russia would likely push oil and natural gas prices higher, driving energy costs higher for many countries in the world." (Andrea Shalal and David Lawder, "Escalated Russia-Ukraine conflict would keep inflation higher longer -IMF," Reuters, 26 January 2022)


Ukraine: Australia to provide Europe with LNG if Russia cuts gas supply

On 25 January, the Australian Resources Minister Keith Pitt stated that the country was “ready to assist with any request for further supplies” amid concerns of European reliance on Russian gas whilst the conflict. Pitt added: “This shows how important Australian resources are to energy supplies around the world.” A senior US official stated that alternative LNG requirements were being considered “whether it’s from the United States or from Australia or from other places”. Russia is said to have already reduced the gas flow to 50m cubic metres per day from the previous 100m cubic metres. Meanwhile, the Russian ambassador to Australia Alexey Pavlovsky commented on the troop buildup: “These troops are not a threat, they are a warning – a warning to Ukraine’s rulers not to attempt any reckless military adventures.” (Daniel Hurst, “Australia could send extra gas to Europe as Russia cuts supplies due to Ukraine tensions,” The Guardian, 26 January 2022)


France: Parliament adopts law banning gay conversion therapy

On 25 January, the French Parliament approved a law banning gay conversion therapy in the country. The bill, passed by 142 Members of Parliament with no opposition, had in October 2021 received support from the French Assembly to be eventually passed by the senators in December 2021. Under the new law, anyone attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of the LGBTQ+ people would face up to three years imprisonment along with a EUR 45,000 fine depending on the situation and the people involved. MP of the En Marche party Laurence Vanceunebrock said: "We are sending out a strong signal because we are formally condemning all those who consider a change of sex or identity as an illness." ("French MPs approve law banning so-called gay conversion therapy," Euronews, 25 January 2022)


Italy: Seven migrants dead and 280 migrants rescued in Tunisian waters

On 25 January, the Italian coastguard reported the death of seven migrants who were trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in freezing conditions. Three migrants were found dead, and four had died due to hypothermia while being transported to the Greek island of Lampedusa. Another 280 migrants were also rescued as they were on board a 20-metre wooden boat in Tunisian waters when they made a distress call. The rough sea conditions delayed the search of the boat for several hours. Most of the migrants on board were of Egyptian and Bangladeshi origin. The NGO Alarm Phone who had informed the authorities about the boat commented on the issue, saying: "Their deaths could have been prevented." ("7 migrants die, 280 rescued off Italian island of Lampedusa," The Washington Post, 25 January 2022; "Seven migrants die and 280 more rescued off Italian island of Lampedusa," Euronews, 25 January 2022)


Ukraine: Belarusian railway hacked by ‘Cyberpartisans’ to deter Russian troops 

On 25 January, Belarusian hacktivist group “Cyberpartisans’ have claimed that the state-run railway’s computer system has been hacked in an attempt to deter Russian forces from travelling to Ukraine. According to The Guardian, they have threatened to “paralyse trains”. Staunch critics of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, the group aims to free political prisoners while stopping Belarusian soldiers from “dying for this meaningless war”. They have called on the government to stop acting as a “staging ground,” saying: “We don’t want Russian soldiers in Belarus since it compromises the sovereignty of the country and puts it in danger of occupation. It also pulls Belarus into a war with Ukraine.” (Andrew Roth, “'Cyberpartisans' hack Belarusian railway to disrupt Russian buildup,” Deutsche Welle, 25 January 2022)


Ukraine: Biden says personal sanctions could be imposed on Putin

On 25 January, US President Joe Biden stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin could be impacted by personal sanctions if Moscow were to invade Kyiv. He expressed that if Russia were to invade Ukraine it would be the "largest invasion" after World War II, as “it would change the world”. Meanwhile, the US has been diplomatically engaging with leading energy-producing countries preparing for a scenario of Russia restricting gas supply to Europe. The White House released a statement confirming a meeting with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Biden, by the end of January. However, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, commenting on the current condition in the country, stated: "We are strong enough to keep everything under control and derail any attempts at destabilization.'' (“Ukraine: Joe Biden says US could sanction Vladimir Putin,” Deutsche Welle, 25 January 2022)

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