Because Ukraine (a word that may mean “borderlands,” although like everything else about the place, the etymology remains in dispute) lacks both natural defenses and an agreed-upon national identity, this wide expanse of Slavic-language-speaking territory has long attracted the attention of the most audacious geopolitical philosophers. They have seen it as the crucial blank slate upon which to inscribe their designs for world domination. In turn, Ukraine’s fundamental vulnerability motivates locals toward extremes of nationalism (although not always in agreement with their neighbors' conceptions of nationalism).
Ukraine’s perennially precarious geopolitical situation was memorably parodied in a 1995 Seinfeld episode in which Kramer and Newman are playing the board game Risk on the subway. Kramer taunts Newman, “I’ve driven you out of Western Europe, and I’ve left you teetering on the brink of complete annihilation.”
Newman desperately bluffs, “I’m not beaten yet! I still have armies in the Ukraine.”
“The Ukraine? You know what the Ukraine is, it’s a sitting duck,” scoffs Kramer. “A road apple, Newman. The Ukraine is weak. It’s feeble. I think it’s time to put the hurt on the Ukraine….”
A fellow passenger, a deep-voiced Ukrainian in a fur hat, is naturally outraged. He asks, “Ukraine is game to you?” before smashing the board.
To the misfortune of the people who live there, Ukraine is a game to the idea men (and women, such as neoconservative insider Victoria Nuland) of numerous surrounding deep states.