Borders have changed in most parts of the world throughout history, and Russia, whether as Empire, Federation, or Soviet Union, is no exception. There’s a long history across that vast land of seeking to expand by absorbing neighbouring territory. Don’t forget, Russia had actually expanded to North America to their east. They had possession of Alaska (although I’m sure the indigenous peoples there would not have agreed, but what else is new) from the late 1700s until they sold it to the U.S. in 1867.
Let’s take a look at the changing boundaries of Russian influence over the centuries. [Click on any map for a closer look.]
Russian expansion in Asia, starting at 1533. Notice that Russia consisted only of the area shaded brown in 1533. And notice that that long-ago area already included what’s now Finland.
Another interpretation of Russian expansion (1300-1796). This one does not include the full scope of Asia like the previous map, but it is useful for having included the borders and names of some of today’s adjoining countries. It helps provide context.
Lands annexed moving west (1772-1795). Russia expanded at the expense of its western neighbours, as this map tries to explain. Russia gained more western territory with each partition.
Quadruple alliance, 1813-15. This map serves as a reminder of how different European boundaries were in Europe, and continued to be for a long time. Notice that Italy does not exist as a country. It did not become the united country we know today until 1946!
Territories lost after World War I and Russian Civil War, circa 1917-18. All the countries whose flags are shown on this map gained their independence from Russian control at this time. Including Ukraine!
The USSR (United Soviet Socialist Republics) in its early years (1922-30s). As you can see by looking at the difference between the previous map and this one, several of the newly independent countries were brought back under Russian domination in 1922. Including Ukraine.
The Soviet Union during the Cold War, 1949-1989.
The Russian Federation post-Soviet era. All those countries regained their independence in 1991 … again. Including Ukraine.
A map of the NATO countries, with dates of entry. I think this map, along with the two previous ones, helps explain why Putin feels threatened, and possibly enraged that all those former Moscow-controlled Soviet republics would rather be independent democracies. And, oh my, the Ukrainian people are suffering for it.