Why Is Eastern Ukraine So Important To Russia?
By Dr. Gary K. Busch, 12/5/2014
Apr 2, 2022 - 1:27:44 PM

There are tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on the Eastern border of the Ukraine. They continue to threaten to invade Eastern Ukraine in pursuit of the chimera of protecting Russian-speakers’ civil rights in the region. That this policy is nothing more than a self-aggrandising cloak for more geopolitical reasons escapes no one; except, perhaps, for those whose belief system includes the notion that somewhere within the vast expanse of Russia there are governmental structures trying to assist the civil and human rights of Russians living in Russia. The Ukrainians still remember the first time the Soviets turned their attention to the Ukraine during what the Ukrainians call the Holodomor; the imposed famine in the Ukraine that killed millions of people, all of whom spoke Russian.


The Holodomor ravaged the rural population of the Ukrainian SSR, and is considered one of the greatest national catastrophes to affect the Ukrainian nation in modern history. Estimates for the total number of casualties within Soviet Ukraine range between 7.0 million and 7.5 million though some set the figure much higher. This famine was purposely engineered by the Soviet authorities as an attack on Ukrainian nationalism. However, as of March 2008, the parliament of Ukraine and the governments of several other countries have recognized the actions causing the Holodomor as an act of genocide. This was connected with Stalin’s drive to collectivise Soviet agriculture in 1930.

The order to collectivise the Ukraine was given by Stalin on January 5, 1930. The deadline for the complete collectivization of the Ukrainian SSR was set for the period from the end of 1931 to the spring of 1932 but the authorities decided to accelerate the completion of the campaign by the autumn of 1930. The already high expectations of the Soviet plan were “outperformed” by local authorities and by March 70.9% of arable land and 62.8% of peasant households were suddenly collectivized.

The Soviets decided that any peasant who was still self-sufficient was a “kulak”; a wealthy farmer. They decided to punish the kulaks by taking their land and property and expelling them from the Ukraine. The term 'kulak' was ultimately applied to anybody resisting collectivization.

By the end of 1932 the population of the Ukraine was dying by the tens of thousands from starvation. Factories closed, transport dwindled and crops went unplanted. The OGPU built barricades to keep the peasants from escaping; special papers were required to travel. All foreigners were banned from the Ukraine and foreign journalists threatened with immediate arrest. During this famine the Soviet authorities continued to export grain from the Ukraine while the Ukrainians starved or were jailed and exiled. By the end of 1933 more than seven and a half million Ukrainians had died, mostly from famine or diseases associated with famine.

It should be remembered that this forced starvation of the Ukraine by the Soviets was only in those areas of the Ukraine that it controlled – mainly Eastern Ukraine. Much of the Western Ukraine was not controlled by or part of the Soviet Union; it was occupied and governed by Poland after the disastrous Polish-Ukrainian War of 1918-1919. Western Ukraine became a hotbed of Ukrainian nationalism as it sought to be reunited with the rest of the Ukraine; especially through a nationalism fuelled by the starvation policies of the Soviets in the areas of the Ukraine that it controlled.

Following the end of World War I, the eastern part of the former Austrian province of Galicia, as well as Volhynia, which had belonged to the Russian Empire, were taken over by Poland. Between the World Wars eastern Galicia was divided into three administrative units. Polish rule over the provinces only ended in September 1939, following the Nazi and Soviet attack on Poland. As a result of the Nazi-Stalin Pact (signed on 23 August 1939) Soviet Russia was a treaty partner of Nazi Germany, This military alliance allowed the Soviets and the Nazis to jointly invade Poland. As a result of this invasion the Soviets controlled the whole of the Ukraine.

After Battle of Lwow, units of the Red Army entered the regional capital, Lviv, and following rigged elections to the People's Assemblies of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus, both eastern Galicia and Volhynia were annexed by the Soviet Union. The Ukraine was united as a unitary state because the Red Army had allied with the Nazis. They remained locked in step with the Nazis until June 22, 1941 when Hitler attacked Russia.

The Eastern Ukraine remains the most industrially-developed part of the country, with coal mines, steel plants, and a variety of heavy industries. Most of its products are exported to Russia. However, this may be its strength but it is also its weakness. The Russian defence industry is almost totally reliant on goods produced in the Eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s belated decision on March 29 to stop supplying weapons and military equipment to Russia, a month after its troops seized the Crimean peninsula, is likely to lead to the cancellation of numerous international contracts signed by Moscow. The decision is likely to impede Russia’s military-defence industry significantly.

As the second largest exporter of arms with the world’s third military budget of $91 billion, Russia is extremely dependent on Ukrainian supplies, which accounts for 87 per cent of its military imports, according to the Stockholm International Research Institute.

The military-industrial complex of Ukraine is the most advanced and developed branch of the state's sector of economy. It includes about 85 scientific organizations which are specialized in the development of armaments and military equipment for different usage. The air and space complex consists of 18 design bureaus and 64 enterprises. In order to design and build ships and armaments for the Ukrainian Navy, 15 research and development institutes, 40 design bureaus and 67 plants have been brought together. This complex is tasked to design heavy cruisers, build missile cruisers and big antisubmarine warfare (ASW) cruisers, and develop small ASW ships. Rocketry and missilery equipment, rockets, missiles, projectiles, and other munitions are designed and made at 6 design bureaus and 28 plants.

Ukraine has certain scientific, technical and industrial basis for the indigenous research, development and production of small arms. A number of scientific-industrial corporations have started R&D and production of small arms. The armour equipment is designed and manufactured at 3 design bureaus and 27 plants. The scientific and industrial potential of Ukraine makes it possible to create and produce modern technical means of military communications and automated control systems at 2 scientific-research institutes and 13 plants. A total of 2 scientific-research institutes and 53 plants produce power supply batteries; 3 scientific-research institutes and 6 plants manufacture intelligence and radio-electronic warfare equipment; 4 design bureaus and 27 plants make engineer equipment and materiel.[i]

Perhaps the best example is the company Motor Stich. It is the sole producer of engines for the MI-8 and MI-24 helicopters. It produces these engines for the Russian helicopter industry and a wide range of other military components. The air firm Antonov is based in the Ukraine and is one of the major suppliers of aircraft for the Russian Air Force and for Russian arms exports. Russia’s state arms exporter Rosoboronexport sold $13.2 billion in weapons and military equipment to foreign buyers in 2013. These arms deliveries in 2012-2013 included 13 An-140 and one An-148 transport aircraft.

The ability of the Russian industry to fill its own needs is compounded by the fact that it needs Ukrainian parts and subassemblies for its exports. Losing control of the Eastern Ukraine jeopardises is Moscow’s ability to fulfil multibillion-dollar international contracts without Ukrainian inputs. It also supplies the engines for the jointly-produced AN-148 planes. Ukraine and Russia had plans to produce 150 planes of this type worth $4.5 billion.

Other exporters to Russia include Mykolayiv-based Zorya-Mashproekt, which sells several types of turbines to Russia, including those installed on military ships. Another is Kharkiv-based Hartron, which supplies the control systems for Russian missiles. The volume of Russian imports of major conventional weapons in 2009-2013 was 176 percent higher than for the previous five-year period of 2004-2008 The Yuzhmash plant in Dnipropetrovsk is the only service provider for Satan missiles that Russia uses. The Ukrainians are also the main supplier of spare parts which its armed forces desperately need.[ii]

This only part of Russia’s difficulties. While the Ukrainian Government issued a decree suspending all military sales to Russia, that ban is only the beginning of Russia’s problems. The U.S. has also banned all military sales to Russia, followed by the United Kingdom. The recent technical development of the Russian aviation industry has been to use Russian-produced air frames coupled with Western avionics and engines. Companies like GE, Rolls-Royce, Pratt & Whitney (to name but a few) have provided the engines and avionics for the latest generation of commercial planes’ including the new AN-148. Many technical subcomponents for Russian military aircraft are produced in the UK, the US, Canada and the EU. A sanction on their sale (or at least a licensing program) will be devastating to Russia’s military and civilian industries. The US ban is already in place.

Although the ethnic Russian population of Eastern Ukraine is less than 15.2 per cent of the total number it is ripe for Russian agitation. The seizure of town halls in Donetsk, Kharkiv and elsewhere are a sign of Russian’s desperation at losing the supplies it desperately needs from the Ukraine. Russia’s troops are on the border and threatening to aid the notionally endangered Russian speakers in the East. This is not a game or a tactical political manoeuvre. It is Russia’s life blood. If Putin cannot arrange for the Eastern Ukraine to be annexed or somehow “independent” under a federal state he will have wildly overplayed his hand in the Crimea. There are many in the Russian armed forces willing to see him go if he has endangered the nation’s defences by his rash act. This is why sanctions are better than war.


[i] “Global Security” 3/4/14

[ii] Ivan Verstyuk, “Ukraine Cuts Military Ties to Russia” Kyiv Post 4/4/14

Source: Ocnus.net 2022