The crisis in Ukraine and Crimea has developed into an ideological battleground between Western and Eastern ideology, in a throw-back to the Cold War era of tension, secrecy and embitterment. Russia’s militaristic celebration to ‘welcome back’ Crimea into their territory smacks of Russia using events in Eastern Europe to flex its muscles and regain lost ground by re-consolidating its influence in ex-Soviet satellite states. Soviet imperialism is making a comeback, but with a new face – a smirking Putin.
The annexation of Crimea was a demonstration of Russian force, but was also the result of many years of accumulated grievances against an ‘unfair’ international system. The Kremlin considers the USA and many nations in the EU regular violators of international law, and sees itself as the victim of unfair treatment – most recently over its gay rights record, the Sochi Winter Olympics, and the alleged corruption around the construction of sports facilities.
Russia is sticking two fingers up at Western ideology and getting her own back by violating international law herself, demonstrating that she is still an imperialist power: allegedly stirring up unrest and violence in Eastern Ukraine, seizing the Crimean Parliament by force, denying the presence of Russian troops in Crimea, staging a very rushed referendum, and by brazenly celebrating its somewhat predictable outcome.
The West is equally keen to assert its authority in the region – countries like the USA present a veneer of sensibility, realism and level-headedness through their role as “independent peace keepers”, dispatching negotiators like John Kerry and Joe Biden as part of their diplomatic assault on “terrorists”.
However, capitalist countries see the resurgence of Russian influence as a threat to free trade and neoliberalism. The USA uses money to assert its influence, so Russia’s undermining of capitalist sentiment erodes Western power, maintained by donating strings-attached aid to developing countries, steering international institutions like the IMF, and influencing international decision-making on a multiplicity of issues.
Moscow sees a gulf between the stated commitments and the actions of the Western partners (the US, EU and Ukraine). Despite a supposed commitment to ensuring peace in Ukraine, it says facts “regretfully speak to the opposite”, and reveal their “strong arm ambitions”.
Yet local people in Eastern Ukraine seem relatively immune to the geopolitical wrangling going on around them. Ideological battles are not a priority for ordinary people, for whom the issues that aggravated violence in the first place are an everyday reality. Issues of unemployment and political representation are important, but most people want a return to normality, and an end to the violence. People are tired, and many want the crisis to be over.