Cold War Enemies Inject Ideology into Geopolitical Conflict

Sean Para, Columnist

Recent events in Ukraine are truly unsettling. It is disturbing how quickly a political crisis can spiral out of control and lead to violence. Ukraine is being pulled in two directions: east and west. Only time will tell which side prevails. However, both Russia and the United States are, as usual, adding an ideological edge to what is primarily a geopolitical conflict.

A separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine has been the most recent and dramatic development in the crisis. The seizure of a government and security administration building by pro-Russian militiamen — acting in concert with covert Russian special forces — has led to a full scale uprising in the Donetsk region, while other parts of eastern Ukraine, such as Luhansk and Kharkiv, remain restive. While the population is divided, there is obviously significant local support for the separatist action and demands for a referendum in order to gain autonomy from the central government in Kiev.

The population of eastern Ukraine has been largely alienated from the central government.

Since the Maidan Revolution in February, the government has been dominated by Ukrainian speakers, and draws most of its support from the west of the country. Kiev’s turn toward Europe and away from Russia destroyed much of its legitimacy in the eyes of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east.

The launch of an “anti-terrorist operation” on Tuesday further divided the country, as many eastern Ukrainians now feel that their own government has declared war on them. While the support for a Russian incursion or annexation should not be overstated, there is a significant constituency in eastern Ukraine that wishes to remain loyal to Moscow rather than move toward the west.

Although ideology plays a role on each side, geopolitical interests are central to the rationale of both Washington and Moscow. This is not to say that Russia does not believe it is in the right in attempting to prevent a brother nation from falling under corruptive American influence. However, Russia is primarily motivated by a desire to keep Ukraine in its sphere of influence. The U.S., meanwhile, does wish to see a free and democratic Ukraine. How-

ever, it also means to check a resurgence of Russia’s power and curb Russian military expansionism.

Russia’s grievances in the Ukraine crisis are not without basis. The U.S. has continuously broken its promises not to expand the NATO alliance eastward. The current government in Kiev is dominated by Ukrainian speakers and has still refused to allow regional referendums on autonomy, instead offering separatists a national referendum, which would almost certainly preserve Ukraine as a unitary state because most of the population would be against federalization. Obviously, Russia is in the wrong for repeatedly violating Ukrainian sovereignty, first with the Crimean incursion and now with covert support of the armed militias that have taken over so many government buildings in eastern Ukraine. However, both sides deserve some of the blame for the current situation.

The U.S.’s warnings, threats and sanctions have had little effect on Russia’s actions. Putin and his cronies care little about what the U.S. or the rest of the world thinks of them. They are concerned primarily with reasserting Russia’s presence on the world stage

after the catastrophic demise of the Soviet Union. The ailing Russian economy does not seem to be much of a concern, either, nor do the possible effects of greater sanctions. Any solution to this crisis will have to take Russia’s interests into account.

These two great powers continue to heap blame on each other for the escalating violence in Ukraine. The Kremlin blames the CIA, and the White House blames clandestine Russian operatives. Both countries are covertly attempting to influence the outcome, Russia more openly due to the thinly veiled use of Russian operatives in eastern Ukraine. On Thursday, four-way talks between Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and the EU yielded an agreement that calls for the separatists to lay down their arms in exchange for amnesty, and commits Russia and Ukraine to de-escalating the crisis. However, the talks did not include a final agreement or touch on the contentious issues of the crisis, such as the legitimacy of the current government in Kiev, the federalization of Ukraine or the tens of thousands of Russian troops still massed on Ukraine’s eastern border. Unsurprisingly, many in the West are still worried about President Putin’s true intentions.