Russia, Ukraine, and the Breakup of the Soviet Union By Roman Szporluk

Friday, May 19, 2006

Renowned Eastern Europe scholar Roman Szporluk sheds new light on the history of the Soviet Union after 1945 in the Hoover Institution Press volume Russia, Ukraine, and the Breakup of the Soviet Union.

Many analysts have interpreted the 1991 demise of the Soviet Union as a consequence of the collapse of Moscow's central government. Szporluk presents evidence to support the idea that the Soviet Union was destroyed by the actions of its opponents, most importantly those who took up the causes of an independent Ukraine and an independent Russia.

According to Szporluk, Josef Stalin's 1939–1945 annexation of Ukrainian ethnic territories previously belonging to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania, and their inclusion in the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, transformed the Ukrainian problem in the Soviet Union into a major issue and had a profound impact on Ukrainian-Russian relations for decades. He argues that Russia's and Ukraine's simultaneous emergence as independent states in 1991 was made possible, in the long run, by what Stalin had done.

Szporluk also argues that the wartime annexation by Moscow of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had a lasting impact on relations within the USSR because the Baltic republics were perceived as being the most modern, and at the same time the most pro-Western, of all Soviet republics. Their quest for independence helped turn others away from communism and contributed to the Soviet breakup in 1991.

Beginning in the early 1970s, Szporluk was among a minority of Western analysts who viewed Russian nationalism as a serious threat to the Soviet regime. His thesis that the "Russian problem" hampered Soviet nationality from 1917 until 1991 is a common thread throughout the entire volume.

Russia, Ukraine, and the Breakup of the Soviet Union is an indispensable source for those who want to understand the challenges in state- and nation-building that the post-Soviet successors are facing.

Roman Szporluk is a professor of history at Harvard University and director of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. His previous books include The Political Thought of Thomas G. Masaryk and Communism and Nationalism: Karl Marx versus Friedrich List. Before coming to Harvard, Szporluk taught East European history at the University of Michigan.