Ukrainian Crisis Reflects Large-Scale Global Issues

Sean Para, Columnist

The recent political developments in Ukraine highlight the extreme political fragility of many regimes around the world. In the space of a few weeks, a protest movement turned increasingly radical until opposition to President Viktor Yanukovych was run out of government. A true political revolution has occurred, with great changes in government certain to follow. The political crisis is far from resolved. Tensions still flare all over Ukraine over the president’s deposition, while Russia makes military demonstrations in Crimea. While I cannot predict the outcome of this turbulent moment, the current conflict is strongly rooted in historical tensions that have plagued the region since the beginning of World War I.

Ukrainian nationalism is largely a construction of the 20th century. This is not to deny that the Ukrainian people have historical antecedents. Ukraine was created as a Soviet socialist republic in 1922 and incorporated into the U.S.S.R. This was the first territorial demarcation of Ukraine. Before then, the region had been split between the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. The nationalist uprisings that occurred following World War I allowed the Ukrainian state to come into being, but the divide between “Ukraine” and “Russia” has only existed since the breakup of the U.S.S.R. in 1991.

Much of eastern and southern Ukraine speaks Russian and its inhabitants consider themselves to have strong historical and national links to Russia. In the west of the country, on the other hand, Ukrainian nationalism is far stronger, and nearly everyone speaks Ukrainian. President Yanukovych was from the eastern region and maintained strong links to Russia, refusing economic aid from the European Union and instead looking east for economic and political support. Russia’s desire to keep Ukraine in its sphere of influence is thus a primary geopolitical cause for the crisis.

Inside Ukraine, many felt wronged by the increasingly corrupt and autocratic Ukrainian government, and launched large protests decrying current government policy. These demonstrations spiraled out of control, leading to huge demonstrations, riots and mass killings last week. Yanukovych’s political support melted away; he had gone too far. Opposition members of Parliament moved against him, and he was effectively deposed.

This striking turn of events displays strong continuities between our world and that of previous generations. The Cold War is over, but American-Russian competition remains a major element in current international relations. The End of History — an utterly absurd concept if there ever was one — has certainly not yet arrived. The lives we lead are the direct result of macro-historic trends that we have no control over. So, let us all take inspiration from the people of Ukraine, who boldly stood up to their oppressive and unjust government. We as Americans have much to learn from their actions of resistance.