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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sources inspiration from past events

Benjamin Mills-Knutsen (Image used with permission from Wikimedia Commons)
The similarities between the Soviet Union and modern-day Russia are incredibly striking as they have both used similar tactics in Eastern Europe. Yet, the media has failed to address such notable similarities.

The news from Ukraine has millions around the world constantly watching their phones, but the war should not have come as a surprise. Russia’s stance that Ukraine contains the same ethnic roots has been around for a very long time, with Vladimir Putin saying in a speech Feb. 21 that “Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood” and “modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia,” according to an article from Reuters. 

The ancestors of both countries, the Kievan Rus, come from Kyiv, per an article from the Institute for a Greater Europe. The Kievan Rus was a civilization formed in the 500s that controlled most of what is now Ukraine and Western Russia, including Moscow, Kiev and St. Petersburg.

Ukraine has a long history of oppression as its people remained part of the historic Poland-Lithuanian Commonwealth and various Russian-based states for much of their history, per Britannica

Putin is executing a vision that supports his individual views and values. In fact, he is drawing on old Soviet tactics, such as separatists and proxy states, per an article from The Atlantic. The Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics are examples of Russia’s proxy states, which broke away from Ukraine and were funded by Russia. Separatists even made an appearance in the Bolsheviks’ invasion of Ukraine in 1918. All of these examples point to what should become obvious: Putin is using historical tactics in the current Ukraine conflict.

Putin is using historical tactics in the current Ukraine conflict.

We, as the Western powers, should have been able to predict these strategies. There are examples of previous powers using similar methods, such as the use of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, which have become puppets seeking independence from Ukraine and hoping to become close to Russia for many years.

These examples are not comparing Shakespeare’s world to ours, nor even Abraham Lincoln’s. Instead, these examples are much more recent, reminiscent of the time of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. Their world was in the middle of World War II. In that world, tactics such as proxy states were used. Thus, we should have been able to see this coming, right?


In 2014, Russian troops entered Crimea, home to Russia’s only warm-water port leased from Ukraine called Sevastopol, per an article from The Guardian. This military action was in response to a populous-backed overthrow of the government. The new government was pro-EU, replacing the Russian-backed government. Such an event should have indicated the possibility of further Russian encroachment politically and militarily. 

These political changes were a pretext for the Russians’ use of previous tactics in the formation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. According to the BBC, the USSR’s power was grounded in having puppet governments ultimately creating a buffer zone between the Russian heartland and Western Europe.

Now, Russia is using those same strategies in its conflict with Ukraine. Their recognition of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic mirrors the governments Russia backed or controlled during Soviet control such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. 

Furthermore, according to the Council of Foreign Affairs, Ukraine has had 2,685 civilian casualties since the invasion Feb. 14, and more than four million refugees have fled the country in that time.

A third World War would yield no benefit and we have to wonder where we draw the line.

Although the conflict has not reached the scale of World War II, our governments need to be careful. We do not need to start World War III in Ukraine, but we must consider how long such a conflict can endure. A third World War would yield no benefit and we have to wonder where we draw the line. We must not allow the Baltic States to be invaded without military action.

Ukraine is not officially aligned with NATO or the EU, so the organizations have no official ties to the country. But, no action in the Baltic States would be in violation of NATO’s founding principles.

These possibilities will be a challenge for years to come, but one thing that we cannot allow is for history to repeat itself. Similarities between modern Russia and the USSR are striking.

As we look ahead to what the future has in store, I cannot help but wonder what could have been if action had been taken sooner by the international community. 

It is not too late as the conflict is still being fought. The measures taken to combat Russia seem to be working. Let us learn the lesson by preventing Russia from getting away with this invasion.

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About the Contributor
Benjamin Mills-Knutsen ('25) is a Reporter for The Standard in Advanced Journalism.

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