Why Ukraine is not and will never be the arbiter of its own fate.
Ukraine has been a festering, open wound for months now. At surface level, it is a conflict which at least when compared to the struggles of the past, would seem to be in much the same vein. To that end, it is prudent to examine the motives of Vladimir Putin. With the distinction between the designations of Ukraine and “the” Ukraine being clear, one’s focus may then move to the deeper ideological struggle which surrounds this.
In 1917 the Russian Empire of Tsar Nicholas II removed itself from participation in the First World War. Political (Bolshevik) unrest at home coupled with a series of embarrassing defeats over the past three years (which ultimately resulted from an overall lack of modern military tactics, equipment, and administration [this also excludes the Brusilov Offensives]) and a very poor harvest made what would come to be seen as a lethal cocktail for the Russian aristocracy.
The successor to this age-old feudal system (which was improving and could have made significant reforms if it had not been dismantled piecemeal by revolutionaries) was, obviously, the Soviet Union. This new system came to be personified in the person of Joseph Stalin (also to a different extent the permanently-embalmed Vladimir Lenin).
Today the Russian Federation is personified in the person of Vladimir Putin, who by all accounts does not desire a return to the Soviet era. What can be gleaned from the ways in which Putin cavorts himself on the global stage is that he sees himself as a type of “neo-Tsar,” in other words, a divine embodiment of all that is Russia. In this sense Putin, in a very real way, may well view Ukraine and the other former territories of the Russian Empire as his own. It is clear that he also may, indeed, stop at nothing to regain them, even in the face of absurd economic and military obstacles.
The current capital of Ukraine, Kiev, is a very old city. Its roots stretch back over a thousand years. In fact, the loose confederation of tribes commonly referred to as the Kievan Rus’ is often cited as a genesis point for what would eventually become the Russian Empire. The people residing in what is currently Russia weren’t always “Russian,” at least not in the sense that the world understands the terms today.
The territory composing the Russian Federation of the present is largely inherited from what used to be the greatness of the Russian Empire. A few key pieces are (and have been for some time) missing. Crimea, often known in historical circles as “the playground of the Tsars” was, until very recently, a part of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin has, in predictable fashion, (seeing as he wishes to reconstitute the Russian Empire and not the Soviet Union) taken it over. The ensuing struggle with respect to the Ukrainian rebels has proceeded along much the same path.
In a way, Ukraine is an essential part of Russia. In many other ways Russia is an essential additive to Ukraine. The truth is that neither Russia nor the European Union have any interest in maintaining true sovereignty for the people which reside within its borders. Inevitably it should be up to the people within the territory of Ukraine to decide where they belong. Unfortunately those options are limited. There are most likely three possibilities:
2) Ukraine is subsumed under the umbrella of Putin’s Russia.
3) Ukraine becomes an economic tool of the European Union and an eastern military outpost of NATO.
On August 14, the Ukrainian Parliament passed the initial form of a bill that would essentially make approximately 49% of its natural gas “transit facilities” (underground storage tanks, pipelines, etc.) available to the both European Union and the United States. This bill would entail the access of European and American firms to these facilities. This could constitute a problem. If Ukraine solidifies its relationship with the EU and NATO, this would mean that it is, de-facto, opposed to Russia. It would also turn Ukraine into an economic slave of the EU. The alternative is basically the reverse: economic and physical subjugation to Putin’s Russia.
This is the source of much of the pro-Russian propaganda which portrayed the pro-EU protesters in Kiev as being “neo-Nazis.” Certainly that element was present, however it is present nearly everywhere. Although it is important to note that there literally are adherents to National Socialist philosophy in Ukraine and that some of these individuals are quite prominent, the issue is more complex than it appears. This generalized fear of “Nazis” stems from the previous economic order which assumed preeminence after the Second World War, wherein Germany was partitioned and completely occupied by the forces of one side or the other. Propaganda coming from the EU and those friendly to the US has portrayed the pro-Russians as “pro-Soviets.” This notion, like that of the neo-Nazis, is complete hogwash as Putin has a very different vision for the future of his Russian autocracy.
The prevailing fear of Russian (ultimately Tsarist Putin) propagandists is a scenario in which the military force of Europe (Germany specifically) returns to a level wherein it can actually threaten Russian borders. Since the end of the war the United States has assumed de-facto control over Europe through NATO, and Russia has been fairly alright with that (assuming that Germany under no circumstances became a resurgent military power). To that end the power balance has been thoroughly US:Russia. Ukraine must inevitably ally itself in a solid way with one side or the other.
Ultimately the smaller details of this struggle may be irrelevant. As Ukraine is historically an integral part of what composes the Russia of legend, Putin’s (and by extension Russia’s) desire for its territory may be the only thing that truly matters. The people of Ukraine must make a choice. They must either enslave themselves economically to the EU (also the United States) or become, once again, a part of the returning “Tsardom” of Vladimir Putin. The opportunity for complete Ukrainian sovereignty was almost always an illusion, just as the propaganda coming from both sides always was. Putin and the west enjoy pretending that they care about the freedom of Ukrainian citizens, in the end neither do or ever will.