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American History class taught us that the Cold War ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. That’s mostly true. The crisis happening in Ukraine, however, has Cold War politics written all over it. Russia flexes its weak muscles around its own borders, and the world’s only true superpower goes into hysterics. True, many of Russia’s actions are illegal, but only wishful thinkers will believe that the U.S. abides by international law. Double standards on this scale would be kind of funny if there wasn’t so much at stake — the lives of many Ukrainians, their country’s economy and the potential for peace in Eastern Europe.
The roots of the Ukraine crisis can be summed up pretty nicely. In the midst of a recession in December 2013, the democratically-elected President Yanukovych had a decision to make. Russian President Vladimir Putin promised $15 billion in bailout money. The European Union, a group of political and economic partner countries that make up most of Europe, offered Yanukovych less than a billion dollars and invited Ukraine to join the organization. Yanukovych’s acceptance of the Russian deal was the spark that ignited ugly protests last year. His move was by no means opposed by the whole country. Western Ukrainians who were more enthusiastic about joining the EU took to the streets, followed by pro-Russian demonstrators from the East wanting secession. US politicians can hardly say that they were neutral on the matter. John McCain was part of demonstrations against Yanukovych’s government, and the U.S. State Department’s favored man became prime minister of Ukraine after Yanukovych’s ousting. One side might have backed out of the Cold War years ago, but U.S. influence is still felt in the region.
Intervention is a luxury only the U.S. and its allies can enjoy, and Putin was reminded of that early on. His annexation of Crimea was met with a lot of shouting and very little thought from the West. Stephen Hadley, a former National Security Advisor to George W. Bush, said that Putin was trying to build “a new Russian empire.” Empire-building is a distant dream for Russia right now, since the immediate goal is survival. NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the military alliance that was created in 1949 “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down” (the blunt words of NATO’s first Secretary General) is gaining member states along Russia’s borders. That’s understandably worrying to the Kremlin. Who knows what our government would do if Canada and Mexico joined a hostile military organization—one that planned to put missile systems right next to the US?
The “remarkable, quick and almost bloodless coup d’état” in Crimea, as described by John Simpson of the BBC, was still illegal. Elections on whether to join Russia or stay with Ukraine were obviously a sham as well, showing that 97% of Crimeans favored Russia. Unlike U.S. domination of Guantanamo Bay, however, there was an element of sanity to the move. Crimea is where Russia keeps its naval fleet under a 1997 treaty. Guantanamo Bay is where the U.S. holds and tortures foreigners (wildly illegal under the Geneva Conventions, for anyone who cares). Russians got a warm welcome in Crimea, where most people speak their language. The U.S. demands that Russia give up power in Crimea, while at the same time denying Cuba’s demands for the U.S. to hand back Guantanamo.
When you combine Guantanamo Bay with other elephants in the room like worldwide drone attacks and domestic spying, the U.S. government seems less and less like the authority on peace and democracy. That hasn’t stopped our media from painting a black and white picture of our conflict with Russia. To be clear, Vladimir Putin has very few redeeming qualities to speak of. But is he really a menace to America? Does he really need to be on the cover of Newsweek with mushroom clouds reflected in his glasses? The personal attacks got truly weird this month when a Pentagon think tank claimed that he had Asperger’s syndrome. The study was based on “movement pattern analysis,” which is a way better phrase than “watching videos of Putin.” Maybe the facts of Western-Russian relations are just too inconvenient to hold America’s attention.
With more than 1.5 million people displaced in Ukraine and 5,300 dead since last April, the situation is becoming more urgent. The most important development is still to come — whether or not the U.S. will enter the civil war. It’s a big possibility, since the France-brokered ceasefire isn’t working. Pro-Russian rebels seem to have broken it within the last few days, and the new Ukrainian president is already calling for UN troops to start participating. Putting American troops on the ground wouldn’t make any sense. It could further destabilize the area, eliminating any hope we might have had about peace in Ukraine.
The reasoning just doesn’t add up: Ukraine horrifies the West by favoring Russia, and all of a sudden, we have a new Soviet Union on our hands. For those of us who don’t feel like getting into another war, or look at Vladimir Putin as a politician rather than a devil, the coming years are going to be pretty interesting. U.S. diplomats will keep obsessing over Ukraine, always ensuring us that it’s the Russians who can’t mind their own business. The Russian perspective will never be given. Why should it? If we believe our media, then all Russia wants to do is rebuild its empire. If we break out of that outdated stance, it could take the world in exciting directions. For now, the Soviet craze is in full swing in America.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Jared Conner at email@example.com.