Ukraine: Where East Meets West

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Our political – as opposed to geographical – notions of east and west are still to an extent influenced by the Cold War. Since that time the ascendancy of the US has seen western influence creep steadily eastwards. Russia herself has not been immune to this “westernisation”. Her oligarchs are a prime example of the neo-liberal trappings of excess, greed and inequality. Since the arrival of Vladimir Putin as President the encroaching western orthodoxy has taken on an increasingly eastern flavour. The westward advance of American influence has been stymied and replaced with something that although it looks like western capitalism, dresses like western capitalism and spends like western capitalism, somehow isn’t western capitalism.

Bolstered by seemingly endless reserves of oil and gas locked beneath Siberian ice, Russia has recovered the confidence she lost in the wake of communism’s fall. Where east meets west is always likely to be a contested space – a place where hemispheres vie for superiority, ideologies collide and cultures clash. Today that border lies in Ukraine where simmering relations have boiled over into a bloody spectacle, whose origins are themselves contested.

From a Russian perspective, terrorists have overthrown a democratically elected President. The American riposte is that the President lost his legitimacy once he turned his guns on his own people. Backing up the rhetoric – both sides have exercised their financial muscles to tighten their squeeze on Ukraine. Just as Russia has frozen $15bn in cheap loans the IMF is considering stepping into the breach with a replacement loan. If ever there has been an example of buying political influence – this is it.

This political opportunism has the effect of reducing the Ukraine and her people to the status of a plaything for the global superpowers. A plaything that will be thrown around for so long as it is fun to do so – and will be left forgotten in a cardboard box in the attic afterwards. The solution therefore does not lie with external superpowers but with the people of Ukraine itself. Untying itself from traditional east and west looking alliances will prove tricky. To highlight just how tricky – a survey taken prior to the recent violence showed that while 39% of Ukrainians favour EU integration, 37% wanted to join Russia’s customs union. Rather than focussing on their differences the people of Ukraine need to focus on what unites them. This is the only hope for a sustainable and peaceful Ukraine.

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