Historical memories of Galicia, Ruthenia, and the Donbas / Donets Basin are very much alive for ethnic Russians. It is difficult for citizens in the individualistic Anglo-West to imagine the hold that ancient stories have on some modern peoples. Modern Russians have not forgotten the Ukrainian 14th Waffen SS Division's actions in WWII. The mere mention of any of these memories is enough to stoke Russian nationalism. Ukrainian memories of the Holodomor are just as vivid, and just as easily fire the imaginations of right-leaning Ukrainian nationalists.
Language matters as much as history. The post-Yanukovych revolutionary government in Kiev repealed a law recognizing the status of the Russian language. This was a major flashpoint for ethnic Russians in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. The wide commingled use of both the Ukrainian and Russian languages is not much of a unifying factor in the Ukrainian national identity. Yugoslavia had an extensively commingled ethnicity, yet the Croats and Serbs went to war anyway in the 1990s. Ukraine's assembly from parts of Poland and Austria-Hungary in the 20th century is just as tenuous as Yugoslavia's architecture without support from all of Ukraine's strongest neighbors.
Diplomatic recognition of Ukraine's pre-2014 borders never offered such assurance. The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances assuring Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity is not a treaty. It is an instrument that allowed Ukraine to surrender its legacy Soviet nuclear weapons and accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It does not commit its signatories to go to war if one of them violates the agreement. It merely commits them to consultations. This commitment has the force of international law but has no clear enforcement mechanism. The memorandum thus invites an attempt to breach it; Russia took its chance with Crimea and succeeded.
Angela Stent shared some insights on the US-Russia relationship while publicizing her book The Limits of Partnership at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco this March. I was present in the audience and gleaned two major points the US often overlooks about Russia. First, she said that the Russian narrative of the "Soros conspiracy" had little substantiation during the Orange Revolution. I believe this is a Western perception. The US should not rule out the possibility that Russian intelligence services promulgated the narrative to stir up anti-foreign sentiment in Ukraine. Second, she noted that Russia supported the US response in Afghanistan and expected the US to accommodate its sphere of interest in Europe. President Putin believes the US let Russia down by pushing NATO expansion. The US doesn't recognize that Russia sees its contraction in the 1990s as chaotic and humiliating. NATO promptly forgot its promise to Mikhail Gorbachev not to deploy troops into the former East Germany or admit new alliance members. Mere mention of these humiliations stokes Russian policymakers' nationalism.
The West is left to wonder what else Russia seeks to achieve in Ukraine. East Ukraine's heavy industries have significant economic links to Russia. Natural gas pipelines through Ukraine deliver Russia's gas exports to Europe. Western Europe's dependency on Russian gas is not so dire, as Russia cannot cut off gas to Ukraine without cutting off gas to Europe as well.
Russia's newest territory in Crimea remains vulnerable to Ukrainian attempts to control its gas and fresh water supplies. There is no land link from Crimea to Russia's Kuban region, which interestingly enough has a large population of ethnic Ukrainians. The Yanukovych government in Kiev had agreed with Russia to build the long-planned Kerch Strait Bridge connecting Crimea to Russia. The provisional government in Kiev after the events of early 2014 obviously had little interest in proceeding with this project. Russia must secure a land corridor from its territory to Crimea to ensure that peninsula's viability. Moldova's breakaway Transnistria region has demanded unification with Russia for some time. The Ukrainian oblasts of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia, Kherson, Mykolaiv, and Odessa constitute a land corridor that secures Russian access to both Crimea and Transnistria.
Third Eye OSINT stands behind its judgment that Russia will continue to foment unrest in eastern and southern Ukraine. Ethnic Russian provocations of Ukrainian government overreactions will provide the strategic pretext for Russian military intervention in this land corridor. Memories of the "Galician" SS Divison's actions against Russians are easy to stir among irredentist Russians. These memories translate as calls for the mother country's intervention. History never ended in this part of the world, and its frozen conflicts are thawing out for action.