EDITORIAL: Cold War rivalry very much alive
The latest developments in Ukraine indicate clearly that the Cold War rivalry is very much alive, notwithstanding all the pretence of mutual cooperation between Russia and the United States and its European allies.
By annexing Crimea from Ukraine, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin put the world on notice that he is determined to restore Russia’s place as a leading nation, even as its domestic economic and political position continues to deteriorate as a result of economic sanctions imposed.
There is no doubt that if these countries did not have nuclear weapons, Europe would be at war today. After all, the two world wars started over lands on the periphery and despite all the economic and military power the West commands, there is little it can do to undo Crimea’s loss to Russia.
We are not taking any sides here but it does not escape us that, by way of comparison, the United States seized Guantanamo from Cuba initially after the Spanish-American War, which was then retained after Cuba became independent over a century ago.
This is especially the case because Crimea became part of Russia over 200 years ago. In 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union.
Ukraine and Crimea were part of the Soviet Union. However, it is not entirely clear whether Khrushchev fully complied with the Soviet constitution when he made the transfer.
Russia has used force and a questionable referendum to achieve its aim, but not before the West had done everything possible to provoke Vladimir Putin by toppling Ukraine’s elected pro-Russian government headed by President Viktor Yanukovych in February.
The other issue is the expansion of the military alliance of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) countries by the United States to include newly independent former countries of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, formerly the Warsaw pact allies.
At loggerheads are two traditionally competing forces which throughout modern history have made Eastern Europe a battleground given the West’s relentless advance towards the East, and Moscow’s resolve to reclaim and reassert its position in that region which it sees as its sphere of influence.
Busy setting its house in order after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia felt a sense of frustration when it was unable to check NATO’s intrusion into territory Moscow had long regarded as its sphere of influence.
Ukraine is Russia’s underbelly, and it would hardly countenance a Ukraine government that is on its wrong side. At the same time, President Putin is sensible enough to realise he will not in the long run be able to reverse the former Soviet republic’s pro-European orientation.
Interestingly, the West, which has shown little consideration for human rights and sovereignty in Afghanistan and Iraq, is now angry that Russia has flaunted its military power. Perhaps a less perilous path would have been to involve the United Nations in order to let Crimea’s people decide their own fate.