It is hazardous – some would even say irrelevant – to venture into the Ukrainian-Russian confrontation from the quiet confines of Northwestern Connecticut.

But so much has been reported on this “breaking news” story that it might not do any harm to take a long look at what’s going on over there.

(Full disclosure: My father’s people came from Ukraine, and my surname means “Crimean” in Russian and Ukrainian. I also reported from that part of the world for the Associated Press during the cold war.)

Analysts have generally portrayed the Ukrainian crisis as the symptom of an east-west divide – the western part of the country being more aligned with Europe and the east with Russia. Perhaps that’s an oversimplification, but the essence is accurate.

Although Ukraine has a long history as a place and culture in its own right, it is thoroughly Slavic, more akin to Russia than any other country. Their borders, their languages, their traditions, and their politics – with some adjustments along the way – have been closely intertwined for centuries.

So, what has been happening over there, unlike Russia’s conflict with former Communist ally Georgia, is really a dispute between blood brothers, whether many Ukrainians want to admit it or not. The trouble is that Russia is a considerably larger and bossy big brother. Ukraine is also surrounded by six other countries, geographically serving as a bridge between Russia and Europe or a “buffer” between east and west.

Crimea is an anomaly. If you look at a map, it might seem logical that the peninsula is part of Ukraine, because Russian land technically does not border it. During Soviet times, that hardly mattered, because everything belonged to Moscow. Nikita Khrushchev, whose political career was forged in Ukraine, officially bequeathed Crimea to Russia’s western neighbor in 1954, but hardly anyone outside the region paid much attention.

Blessed by a mild climate, Crimea has been the playground of czars, commissars and oligarchs as well as the warm-water port for Russia’s Black Sea fleet. It was no accident that Stalin hosted the 1945 wartime conference of allied leaders in balmy Yalta during frigid February.

Just across the water from Vladimir Putin’s beloved Sochi, Crimea is not likely to remain in Ukrainian hands. Mr. Putin is already talking about building a bridge to the Russian mainland to seal its fate.

Despite my personal interest in Crimea, it is just a sideshow in the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine. As Ukrainian emigres in the United States will tell you, the resentments run deep.

Ukraine, with its fertile farmlands, was once the “breadbasket of Europe.” During Soviet times, it wasn’t even the breadbasket of Ukraine. When Stalin forcibly collectivized agricultural property into state farms and raided Ukraine’s food stocks in the famine of the early 1930s, an estimated 10 million Ukrainians perished. The depth of hatred was apparent nearly a decade later, when some locals aligned with the invading Nazis against Moscow.

After World War II, the far western sector of Ukraine was carved out of Poland and Romania, while the eastern sector, which had become the country’s industrial base, remained, in all but name, an extension of Russia.

Enter Mr. Putin after the Soviet collapse and his determination to restore Russia to superpower status, often under the guise of “protecting” Russian populations beyond his borders. That, by the way, was the argument Hitler used to invade Czechoslovakia’s German-populated Sudetenland in 1938.

Not a good situation.

– George A. Krimsky 03/03/14