Cyber Security and Emerging Threats Diplomatic Relations Eastern Europe and Russia Energy & Resources Justine Reisler Peace & Conflict Studies

Chaos in Ukraine: Cold War Competition Exacerbates Internal Problems

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was democratically elected. He was ousted by a protest movement some would call a popular revolution, others have called it a coup and it is a matter of perspective.  But he was not a dictator he was a corrupt politician who managed to win what was considered by the international community to be a fair election in a highly polarized country.  Certainly it can be said that he failed to govern democratically by making changes to the constitution to increase executive powers, introduce regressive laws and amass great wealth for himself and his close supporters, yet there were other means to remove him from power such as impeachment. Ukraine has become a battleground between East and West in a scenario reminiscent of the Cold War, but the Cold War is over and many things have changed. There is no side advocating socialism and the so called “democrats” in the West of Ukraine who protested against Yanukovych have in some ways been co-opted by a more vocal fascist element led by politicians such as the openly anti-Semitic, homophobic and anti-Russian Oleg Tyagnybok. Today it is less clear who is on the “right” or “wrong” side of this conflict.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said “this is not a zero-sum game. It is not west versus east.” And the US government along with NATO, through the NATO-Russia Council has been exploring diplomatic solutions. The problem with this approach is that it absolutely is a zero-sum situation if the importance of preserving Ukraine’s territorial integrity is taken to be more important than the people of Ukraine’s right to democratic representation and self-determination. Ukraine can only have trade relations with the EU or the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia but not both. EU trade policy requires Ukraine to choose one side and Ukraine itself is internally divided. Even Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, widely perceived as a moderate, due to his position on the Russian language and trade relations with Russia is completely at odds with Eastern Ukrainians and can hardly been seen as representing their interests.