Will the Cold War never end? Relations between the West and the core of the former Soviet Union remain tense and potentially volatile, and the streets of Kiev offer the best testimony to that unhappy fact.
Europe and the United States — the principal partners in the struggle against the Soviet Union — are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and Russia is unhappy that NATO’s domain has expanded eastward so that it is closer to what Moscow has long considered its sphere of influence.
And now it is East against West in Ukraine, one of the founding republics of the Soviet Union but never a happy partner with Moscow.
The issue that has drawn thousands of protesters into the streets of Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, is whether a long-anticipated economic pact with the European Union should be signed. To do so would effectively make Ukraine “more European.”
But Moscow is applying relentless pressure to persuade Ukraine to spurn the EU’s overtures.
On Tuesday, the Ukraine parliament defied the protesters and defeated a measure that called for Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his government to resign. It was a setback for the pro-European side, but the fight’s not over.
“While it remains unclear how long the protest leaders can maintain enthusiasm as winter deepens … the momentum seems to be on their side for now,” The New York Times reported Wednesday.
From the West’s point of view, those who favor the stronger relationship with Europe make sense. Moscow sees it differently and wants Ukraine to remain more closely allied, economically, with Moscow.
Few of us have paid much attention to Ukraine since the “Orange Revolution” that in early 1995 reversed the rigged election of Viktor Yanukovych as president. However, he has since regained office and is therefore a prime target of the protesters.
And nobody who was around then can forget the notorious Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 that frightened not just everyone in Ukraine but practically the entire world and that still has an effect on the debate over the future of nuclear power.
Relations between Kiev and Moscow have long been rife with brutality and intolerance (on Russia’s part). The Soviet leadership in Moscow had little or no respect for Ukraine’s culture or language and brutally suppressed the country’s poets, historians and other intellectuals. Also, it committed genocide, starving millions of Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933.
Ukrainian nationals fought against both the Germans and the Soviets during World War II, and in 1945 Ukraine was a founding member of the United Nations. It finally regained its independence when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989.
In Ukraine, those who live in the east and largely depend on Russian economic ties are naturally far more likely to favor continuing the status quo — which is being pushed in various ways by Russian President Vladimir Putin — while those farther west want closer relations with Europe.
Americans, whose ancestors fought so hard for their freedom in their day, surely are on the side of the Ukrainians who seek a better life now and in the future.
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