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‘Vikings’ by Viktor M. Vasnetsov (1848–1926), painted in 1913 in Russia, showing the meeting of Vikings and Slavs.

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Is it possible to understand the Russian bear, without looking into history and in the past we can find the claws of present actions by the Russian state.

The 1913 painting by the Russian artist Victor Vasnetsov depicts a fateful encounter between the Vikings and the Slavs.

In the 8th century Vikings had begun to spread out from their northern homeland, where their culture evolved and their keenest weapon, their ships, had been refined.

In their ships the Vikings sailed the rivers from the Baltic to the Black Sea seeking adventure and wealth, finding their way to the Byzantine Empire, where some would join the royal guard, known as the Varangians.

One young Viking who came this way served for many years with the Varangians, accrued much wealth and returned to Norway via Kiev, to become King Harald, who fell at the Battle of Stanford Bridge in England in 1066.

Kiev was founded as a trading town among the Slavs and being astute rulers and fierce warlords, they carved out a kingdom and became known as the Rus.

This is why Russians refer to Ukraine as “Little Russia”, because it is where Russia began, the birth of their nation and their empire.

In recent decades the Russians have been in retreat from their former holdings across Europe and Asia, but that is now turning.

Like the Rus Vikings, they have been astute in trade, selling gas and oil to Europe, much of it passing through Ukraine.

Because of their historic attachment, the Russians have not been pleased to see Ukraine drifting toward Europe.

Current strife began three months ago, when Mr. Yanukovych, the Ukranian president, abandoned negotiations with Europe and turned to Russia, which displeased many citizens.

Not all Ukranians are against building links with Russia, as the south and east of the country is dominated by Russian speaking people.

In the west, people mostly speak Ukranian and the capital, Kiev, is located in the heart of the Ukranian west.

Ukraine is virtually torn in half by language, with those in the west seeking to be part of Europe and those in the south and east looking to Russia.

The Russians have no desire to see NATO on their border, which would be the case if Ukraine joined Europe.

In this flux, the stage is now set for conflict and following the strife in Kiev, the Russians have taken to the field.

It is a telling sign that there was not one dissenting voice in the Russian parliament, when they voted on whether to intervene in Ukraine.

Their first move has been to secure the Crimean Peninsula, which happened without a shot being fired.

Crimea had been part of Russia, until 1954, when the Soviets gifted the peninsula to Ukraine, so there is a natural match to be relit there.

Now we wait and wonder what will happen in the east and south of Ukraine, which like Crimea, is dominated by Russian speaking people and many are now taking matters into their own hands, occupying buildings and calling for Russian intervention.

There can be no doubt that Russia will remain in possession of Crimea, where their Black Sea fleet has been located since 1783.

Should civil conflict break out in other parts of the Ukraine, it is a moot point as to whether Russia will intervene, as Russian military action could, or would, spark a wider conflict, even drawing in other European nations.

Like a match in the gunpowder store, there is an unexpected explosion waiting to happen.

To the southwest of Ukraine there is the small nation of Moldova, through which the Dniester River flows.

Moldova had been part of the Soviet Union and as they explored new ways for their nation, they decided to make Moldovan the official language.

This move displeased the Moldovans living on the eastern side of the Dniester, who rebelled, went to war in 1991 and won and now call their lands Transnistria. [1]

Though not recognised by any nation or the United Nations, there is a territory of half a million people on the southeast border of Ukraine, who are fiercely keen to join Russia and are prepared to fight.

It’s only 800 kilometres between Transnistria and Russia and in between are the lands that may also decide to join Russia.

And now the Russians have occupied Crimea, right in the middle.

The Transnistrians are in possession of a large store of Soviet era weapons and when the Russians attempted to remove them, they refused to allow this.

Should civil conflict break out in the south of Ukraine, it is all too possible that it will be the Transnistrians who will release their armoury and join the fight.

The warrior spirit of the Vikings does not yet sleep in the East, nor with the Rus.

NOTES ~

[1]  Trans-Dniester profile
BBC News Europe
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-18284837