Ukraine and Russia: the use of history in political dispute

Ukraine and Russia: the use of history in political dispute


To understand what’s going on in Ukraine, you need to understand the Donbas. Though written almost 20 years ago, this paper tells you everything you need to know about the historical background to the current conflict and the reasons why both Ukraine and Russia claim the territory is “theirs”; Moscow justifies its seizure of Crimea as the protection of Russian speaking minorities as the ongoing war in Ukraine highlights ethnic and nationalist tensions that have existed there for generations.

In this paper written shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Andrew Wilson focused on the Donbas region, historically poised between Ukraine and Russia, which had been part of the newly independent Ukraine since 1991 but was still the subject of bitter argument between the two states. He sets out the contradictory historiographical narratives used by both sides and explains how Ukrainian and Russophile historians of that time competed over differing territorial interpretations in an attempt to tip the balance in the broader political struggle between Ukraine and Russia.  

In this prescient paper, published in the Journal of Contemporary History in 1995, Wilson notes: “The potential for historiographical rivalry to lay the basis for political conflict in such conditions is obvious, especially in contemporary post-communist Eastern Europe where examples of such disputes abound.”

ECFR re-publishes this paper as a detailed and well-researched contribution to the background to the current conflict in Ukraine in general and the Donbas region in particular.

The Donbas between Ukraine and Russia: the Use of History in Political Dispute

The final, definitive version of this paper has been published in the Journal of Contemporary History, 30/265, January/1995 by SAGE Publications Ltd, All rights reserved. © Andrew Wilson

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


Senior Policy Fellow

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