More than two decades have passed since 1989, the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall separating the ‘two Germanies’ and the main symbol of the Iron Curtain between the ‘first’ and the ‘second’ world. Those were the years of the internal collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the foundations of which had been laid by the implementation of ‘glasnost’ (гласность) and ‘perestroika’ (перестройка) policies by then-CPSU Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev. For better or worse, those years have profoundly marked contemporary history.
Two decades in which the United States of America, after finally getting rid of the decades-old Soviet concern, has put its feet thoroughly in the shifting sands of the Middle East, from which Washington is still struggling to take off due to subtle pressures by the odd couple formed by U.S. historical allies Saudi Arabia and Israel. Meanwhile, the so-called color revolutions in Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), and Kyrgyzstan (2005), have sanctioned, or tried to do so, a further fragmentation in the post-Soviet era, as if, after years of containment, raging on a defeated ‘enemy’ has ever shown to lead to some results (for further information, ask the Weimar Republic).
After years of politically collaborative inertia, on 21 November 2013, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to signing the political part of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement (preferring additional discounts to the already minimal sale price of gas by Moscow) and the following popular unrest made the status quo change irrevocably. The so-called Euromaidan Revolution (named after Kyiv’s central square) would lead to the impeachment of the government controlled by the moderately pro-Russian Party of Regions, the settlement of another one led by pro-European President Petro Poroshenko, and the inevitable split of the Eastern European country into three: a pro-European and nationalist West, whose stronghold is located in the culturally Central European city of Lviv; a moderately pro-European Center, based in the capital (the birthplace of the Kievan Rus, ancestor to Tsarist Russia); an autonomist Southwest, which is heavily tied to the Russian neighbor for historical and cultural reasons. In the latter were Sevastopol, home to a major Russian naval base on the Black Sea, and the Crimean peninsula, whose 1954 transition to Ukraine is popularly credited to a Nikita Khrushchev’s moment of drunkenness. However, myth apart, it was simply aimed at redefining internal boundaries on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the historically controversial Treaty of Pereyaslav.
Such a geopolitical upheaval resulted not only in President Vladimir Putin’s tough stance, by annexing de facto the Crimea unilaterally, provoking a revival of the Cold War in a smaller scale, but especially the explosion of a bloody civil conflict in the eastern regions, at a time when the role of Moscow as a mediator between Brussels-Washington and both Tehran and Damascus is particularly needed. On the one hand, the couple formed by Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (whose tones are necessarily more diplomatic than the former KGB officer’s) have complained of the Western meddling in what was (and still is) commonly considered as Russia’s backyard, as well as a ground state for the success of the newly-formed Eurasian Economic Union. On the other, the European Union (especially the Baltic States and Britain), along with the U.S., accused Putin of behaving not differently from a czar, punishing him and his magic circle (whose riches are of dubious origin, to say the least) with targeted economic sanctions. The latter, combined with the Saudi-backed dramatic collapse of the oil price on international markets, have devoured the Russian economy, mainly based on raw materials, and caused the impressive depreciation of the ruble.
Facts say that Ukraine is currently facing a deep recession. Only foreign interventions, including a four-year emergency loan amounting to $40 billion on the part of the International Monetary Fund, as well as EU’s guarantees to Russian company Gazprom on contracts for gas supply, keep the country still standing. Economic forecasts recently released by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, on the occasion of its annual meeting, show that Ukraine’s real gross domestic product is likely to mark a fall of -7.5% in 2015, whereas Russia’s is expected to perform slightly better, -4.5%.
Meanwhile, the last phase of peace negotiations held in Minsk, although being not a panacea, have partially contributed to freezing the conflict. However, hostilities are still there, ready to explode again in all their deadly virulence, as demonstrated by several violations of the ceasefire on either side.
Several months after the start of the uprising (which was openly advocated by some foreign lenders, including Hungarian-American businessman George Soros), everything seems to have changed so that anything would change at all. Even if some measures aimed at curbing the country’s rampant corruption were taken and others are in the process of being elaborated, it must be said that, at the time being, Kiev firmly remains in the hands of a small circle of oligarchs, and the civil war has so far overshadowed the need for structural reforms, necessarily linked to the survival of the new entity itself.
While stressing the evident interference of Western countries in the Ukrainian revolutionary process, Russian ferocious response evokes a world in which diplomacy is a surrogate of the law of the jungle, and where only brute force counts, degenerating into what English philosopher Thomas Hobbes properly called “bellum omnium contra omnes” (“war of all against all”). A common recognition of these errors is a first essential step for resuming the process of dialogue and cooperation for the sake of Ukraine and its collapsing economy. After a pars destruens, one needs a pars costruens as well.
Leaving it for granted that Kiev is not in a position to be part of the NATO (which is something bipartisan warmongers realize), there’s evident need for rethinking the ‘West”s relationship with Moscow. Apparently a simplistic statement, this doesn’t mean that enmities rooted in the American democracy, European chancelleries and the Kremlin are to be put aside in a short period of time. Yet, it’s possible to collaborate on a bunch of strategic issues, such as the fight against terrorism and the formation of a new, comprehensive world order in agreement with the People’s Republic of China and other world powers. The energy interdependence between the EU and Russia shows how a break in relations would prove self-defeating.
While there’s plenty of unknowns in this process, there’s only one certainty, namely that if the moldy Cold War rhetoric will prevail, both are likely to have more to lose than to gain.