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The Ukraine could push
us back towards the Cold War



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991
Comments to

December 2, 2004

LONDON - The upheavals in the Ukraine have many roots but one of them undoubtedly is the lack of a well thought out long term attitude by the Western powers to post Cold War Russia. Since the days of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, both Europe and the U.S. have failed to be clear either to themselves or to the outside world what exactly they wanted beyond an end to communism.

Although Gorbachev was much lauded in the West as a great reformer there was little offered in the way of economic help so that he would be strong enough at home to preside over a more carefully measured transition than the one that in fact occurred under the impetuous Boris Yeltsin who rode the break up of the Soviet Union on his way to power. Then in 1992, at the time of Yeltsin's first government of Prime Minister Yegor Gaider that was earnestly serious and clean about economic reform, President George Bush sat on his hands, more concerned about the repayment of the old debts of the Soviet Union than anything else.

When President Bill Clinton- in a desperate search for votes from the East European Diaspora in America's mid West - set in motion the extension of NATO right up to the borders of Russia it provided all the ammunition that was needed to those in the Russian establishment who had never been happy about a too close relationship with the West. George Kennan, the grand old man of Russian diplomacy, described it as "the most fateful error of the entire post Cold War era".

The Europeans compounded the error by refusing to engage in what Gorbachev termed the construction of "a European house" and President Vladimir Putin's musings on the same theme.

The issue of whether Russia is or isn't part of Europe goes back at least half a millennium. Norman Davies in his monumental "Europe- a History" writes, "For more than 500 years the cardinal problem in defining Europe has been centered on the inclusion or exclusion of Russia."

Empress Catherine the Great categorically announced in 1767 that Russia was a European state. Russophiles recalled that Muscovy had been an integral part of Christendom since the 10th century. Russia's claim to be part of Europe was reinforced later by Russia's role in the defeat of Napoleon and by the magnificent flowering of Russian culture of Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky and Chekov. Dostoevsky used the occasion of the unveiling of a statue to Pushkin, Russia's most adored poet, to gush forth a eulogy to Europe. "Peoples of Europe", he declared, "don't know how dear to us they are." Lenin too foresaw the day when the victorious communists would join up with the revolutionaries of Western Europe.

But there has always been a counter trend in Russia. In his influential book "Russia and Europe", written in the mid 19th century, Nikolay Danilevskiy argued that Russia possessed a distinctive Slavic civilization of its own, midway between Europe and Asia. And in the days before the revolution of 1917 the anti-reds denounced the Marxists as a Western implant dominated by Jews.

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Today in the Ukraine the latest act of this long drama unfolds. A poll recount or new election will hardly help resolve the situation now that passions are so high. The long series of Western rebuffs to Moscow from the time of Gorbachev on have breathed life into the Slavic chauvinist impulse. The eastern Ukraine- and the heartland of its economy- has been identified with Russia for centuries. It was never on the cards that this part of the Ukraine would slip its moorings and go West.

This could only happen if Russia itself had decided to unequivocally become part of Europe but this the European Union countries, both by going along happily with NATO expansion and by their coolness to Russia, have made impossible.

The West's post Cold War Russia policy now reaches a denouement of sorts, one that the more astute observers like Kennan, have seen coming for a decade or more. Whilst few in the West will excuse the rigging of Ukraine's election, using it as a reason to go to eye-to-eye with Moscow would be quite counterproductive.

The Ukrainians must work it out for themselves, which means finding a way of resolving this crisis in a way that Russia can accept.

The West for its part needs to re-think its whole post Cold War policy towards Russia. The U.S. should put a stop to its aggressive geo-political strategy of challenging Russian interests in the "near abroad" and Europe must use the lure of European membership for both countries to keep Russian and Ukrainian democracy and behavior on the straight and narrow.  

Otherwise a return to the hostilities of the Cold War cannot be ruled out, and it will be as much the West's fault as Russia's.


Copyright © 2004 By JONATHAN POWER


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:




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