It is all too easy to look at the situation in Ukraine and think “ah this is just another one of those Syria stories.” The problem, much like with Syria, is our relative ignorance toward the geo-political story of the conflict. Simply put, most of us were born half a world away and have no cultural context.
As a German-born son of Serbian immigrants, my context is certainly not Ukraine-specific, but it might give American readers a bit more of a window into the situation. First, let’s dispel a misconception. For those who believe that this is a “Murica v. Commies” Cold War throw-back: you are wrong.
Rather, this is a stick measuring contest between the EU and Russia.
Post World War II, power-centralization in Europe started shifting from individual countries to a more opaque control web under the name of the European Union. The most powerful players during the war are still the big players in the EU. The difference is that they now work together. And their goal is the economic and geopolitical expansion of their reach through the cover of the EU. Specifically, that means assimilating countries in Eastern Europe into the EU, which in turn expands the EU’s control toward Asia and the Middle East.
Naturally, Russia tries to counter-act this trend. Like the EU, Russia first attempts to subvert governments and popular opinion through economic incentives. In Ukraine’s case, it offered natural gas supplies at a 50 percent discount, combined with a $15 billion aid package, Forbes reported Monday. When this did not work, Russia did what the EU cannot do—flex its muscles and do a silent invasion of Ukraine.
It comes as no surprise that the Russian parliament agreed to let its president, Vladimir Putin, do whatever the hell he wants to. After all, we have all had that deranged, narcissistic boss that thinks he is better than his “underlings.” Best to just nod your head and not pop their inflated ego bubble. In Putin’s case, that pop could very well lead to a prison term or worse for his dissidents.
This situation has been put on ice until March 30 when the residents of the Crimea area, which is majorly pro-Russian, will get to vote in a referendum. If the vote goes in Russia’s favor, we are likely to see a repeat of the Serbia-fiasco, where its states splintered into multiple smaller nation-states, such as Montenegro. If it the referendum keeps Crimea in Ukraine’s control, Putin might do more than flex muscles and actually invade and occupy the region, as with Russia’s effective 2008 annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia during the short war between the two countries, according to yesterday’s The Economist.
The U.S. and EU will work together by imposing economic isolation of Russia. Since the EU is a prime purchaser of Russian gas, a European boycott could put Putin in dangerous territory with Russia’s most influential elite. Whichever way the referendum will go, the true victim of this Cold War re-enactment will be the Ukrainian people.