In the End, Everything Comes Down to Money

“Money often costs too much.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Exactly how much is too much? It’s clear to many of us in the west that the blood of tens of thousands of soldiers is an acceptable cost to Vladimir Putin to take Ukraine and do with her as he sees fit.

But it hasn’t just been since the launching of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” that Russia and Ukraine have had less than steller relations. The two nations have over 1,000 years of history, and their closeness has to do with more than geography. Ukraine is (or was) Russia’s biggest market for her natural gas exports. That’s a lot of money. Bloomberg estimates that Russia is on track to make $321 Billion from oil and gas exports this year. That’s a lot of borscht. It’s also a lot of bombs and missiles.

This Moscow oil refinery is undergoing a $3.4 billion modernization project. Image credit:

In addition to buying most of her natural gas, Ukraine must be crossed to get Russia’s product from the refinery to her European customers. If Ukraine decides to block the flow of petroleum products, it will also block the flow of money. As you may have guessed, Putin is very much against that. He also has had to pay a transit fee for oil and gas moving through those pipe lines in Ukraine as well.

As noted earlier, the two countries are interconnected, as Ukraine is home to roughly 7.5 million ethnic Russians. Most of them live in the eastern region of the country. A full 25% of Ukraine’s almost 50 million (pre-war count) citizens speak Russian as their first language. There are many families in Ukraine where one parent is Russian and the other Ukrainian. Most people still have relatives in Russia.

If you look at it as a familial relationship, Russia plays the role of big brother. Sergei Markov is a political scientist and former close advisor to President Putin. He puts the relationship this way, “Everybody knows that Ukrainians are Russians,” he says, “Except for the Galicians.” This is a reference to the Ukrainian-speaking residents of western Ukraine, those furthest away from mother Russia.

Why Is Russia Laying Claim to Ukraine?

Kievan Rus, where it all started. Image Credit:

Both nations can trace their roots back to Kievan Rus, the first East Slavic state. It stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea from the 9th to the mid 13th century. Interestingly enough, this medieval empire was founded by Vikings and not the people indigenous peoples who lived there. As it turns out, “Rus” is the Slavic word they used for red-haired Scandinavians.

Your stereotypical ginger helmet-clad Viking. Image Credit:

These “Rus-like” people from the north swept down into what was to become Kievan Rus in the 9th century, quickly conquered the local population, and established their capital at Kiev, or Kyiv, or Київ, depending on who you ask. Who knows, maybe the Vikings will want all of it back someday.