Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Ukraine’s Election Reflects Past

Looking at Western media, it seems as though the recently contested election in Ukraine is both a popular revolution and a renewal of the traditional East-West divide.

The United States and the European Union have gallantly taken a stand behind westward-looking Viktor Yushchenko and his cheated and oppressed opposition, while Russia staunchly defends Leonid Kuchma’s corrupt authoritarian regime and its presidential candidate, Viktor Yanukovych. The situation is not as simple as that, however.

This is a clash of legitimate interests that reaches down to the fundamental cultural, economic and political values of both the West and the East.

In the West, any mention of Moscow or Russian President Vladimir Putin elicits sighs and frustration. Russia’s economy is unstable. Corruption is rampant. And Putin has marginalized political and social opposition. Russia is weak militarily and lacks the influence to play a major role on the international stage.

Nevertheless, Russia, like a child fighting to hold on to too many toys at once, nostalgically grabs at the scattered remnants of the Soviet Union. Case in point – the Ukrainian election. Russia and, most importantly, Putin should learn their place and stay out of the democratic affairs of other states.

But the issue is not as clear cut as the American media make it seem. Consider the Russian position.

Russia and Ukraine have historically shared a close kinship. Russia owes much of its national identity to Ukraine. The roots of the Russian nation are traced back to Rurik and the Kievan Rus in the ninth century A.D. As a popular saying goes, “Ukraine is the mother of Russia.” Thus in Russia, the idea of Ukraine has a very strong cultural resonance.

On the economic front, a closer relationship between the two nations is first and foremost in the Russian interest, as Ukraine has been one of Russia’s closest trading partners in agriculture, natural resources and industrial goods.

Yushchenko, however, has instilled false hopes in the Ukrainian people that an economic reorientation toward the West will make up for economic disintegration from Russia.

This is not practical, because neither the European Union nor the United States can offer the same level of economic support as Russia given Ukraine’s geographic position and the economic priorities of the West.

Moscow’s support for Yanukovych is support for Russia’s economic interests and also for what is practical.

Russia’s opposition to Western influence in Ukraine is a reaction against the onslaught of Western power. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has lost every single geopolitical contest with the West, including the outcome of the Kosovo conflict and the expansion of the European Union. The contest in Ukraine is another geopolitical challenge, this one right on the Russian border, from which Russia cannot back down.

So, what should be done? Call another election and bring in international observers. This is the one solution that all sides seem to agree on. This would level the playing field; the results would show if the opposition’s claims are legitimate. And significantly, the role of the international community would be reduced to observing the election, which is what it should have been in the first place.

Vladimir Gorshkov is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.

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