Ukraine as Soviet Republic and After: Focus on Donbass
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Ever since its incorporation in the Russian Empire, Ukraine has been of vital economic importance to Russia because of its fertile black lands and the industrial center in the Donbass. Through his NEP, Lenin planned to develop further the industry of the Donbass so as to make socialism possible in the USSR. But, after his death, Stalin shifted the focus to agriculture and the socialization of farms. Hitler, meanwhile, also saw Ukraine as indispensable to Germany’s war efforts, which is why the Wehrmacht invaded Russia in June 1941. Controlling Ukraine and the Donbass was one of Hitler’s strategic objectives. The forces of the Third Reich failed, however, to achieve success and were crushed by the Red Army in Stalingrad, the decisive battle of World War II. After the end of WWII and the death of Stalin, Khrushchev further strengthened the strategic importance of Ukraine by granting it the oblast of the Crimea, which until then belonged to the Russian Soviet Republic. The reasons for this land transfer are not entirely clear, and after 1992 the Russian Supreme Council deemed it illegitimate. Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Ukraine—now an independent republic—fell into decline. Its economy was dependent on Russia: it had no other customer for its industrial (and military) output, and it lacked the infrastructure to sustain a sophisticated industrial park. GDP per capita and industrial and agricultural production fell. Meanwhile, the newly elected Ukrainian presidents pushed through the privatization of the state enterprises, enriching a new small class of corrupt oligarchs (among them, Yulia Tymoshenko).