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Exploring The Roots Of The Ukraine-Russia Conflict

Serhii Plokhy

When Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down, the world’s attention was once again drawn to the crisis in Ukraine. 

Today on Think, Serhii Plokhy, Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University, talked about the origins of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. 

As Plokhy explains, one major flashpoint came after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia and its president Boris Yeltsin hoped to lead a new economic powerhouse made up of former Soviet satellite states.

“Yeltsin and his Russian advisors thought that this kind of economic independence of Russia could still work together with some kind of loose association - maybe a confederation where Russia would play, not just [an] important role, but a leading role.”

A 1991 Ukrainian referendum ended those hopes. More than half the people in Crimea and nearly three fourths in eastern Ukraine voted for independence. Plokhy says Russia’s move this year – to take control of Crimea, recalls a much earlier conflict in Europe – one that ultimately led to World War II.

“In the case of Crimea we have, for the first time since 1939 that a major power, a country invades another country and then annexes the territory. So we have all sorts of situational wars but this invasion without any pretext and seizing territory – this is really something that [we] didn’t see, didn’t witness for a long period of time”

SerhiiPlokhy is director of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University. His new book is The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union.

Think re-airs tonight at 10, orfind the podcast at