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Russian aim to annex parts of Ukraine has the world on the brink of another Cold War

Illustration by Tina Wallace

On Feb. 28, six days after the former president of Ukraine fled the country after sanctioning the killing of more than a hundred anti-government protesters in Kiev, the Russian government sent in more than 10,000 troops into the Crimea region of the Ukraine, occupying government buildings, airports, and media centres.

Since this time, up to 20,000 more Russian troops have joined them and all independent media in the area have been shut down.  Meanwhile in the capital of Crimea, a marginal pro-Russian party, that had obtained less than four per cent of the popular vote in Crimea’s last regional election, ascended to power and voted unanimously to join Russia.

The Russian government maintains that it is simply protecting the interests of Russian-speaking people in the Crimea, but don’t be fooled. The 30,000 Russian troops in the Ukraine are evidence of Russia’s return to a Cold War mentality.

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was a brief period during which it was believed that the world order had fully shifted, not just diffusing Russian dominance on the global stage, but in fact bringing Russia into the democratic, Western fold.  Boris Yeltsin, democratically elected, worked quickly to move the state-run economy to private enterprise.  Moving too quickly, millions of people ended up unemployed and eventually hostile to Yeltsin and the new Russian Federation.

A common political psychology concept is that a populace low in self-esteem and accustomed to dominant leaders who limit their freedom actually feel more comfortable in a system of repression. This would explain the Russian people’s aversion to Yeltsin and their strong support for a new paternalistic dominant leader, Vladimir Putin.

Initially, Putin responded to public demand for continued Western reform by obtaining a place in the G8 and the World Trade Organization, as well as securing Russia as the host country for the 2014 Olympics and 2018 World Cup.  But, as what happens to most megalomaniacs, the longer he stayed in power, the more corrupt and power hungry he became. Now in control of the Kremlin since 2000, he has decided it is time for the return of a quasi-Soviet Union.  If you think this a stretch, look at Putin’s plan for a Eurasian Union. It’s almost identical to the borders of the former Soviet Union.

In Russian media, there is one message: Nationalist extremists are harassing Russian speakers in Ukraine.  Problematically, there is no evidence to suggest any type of harassment in the Ukraine with the sole exception of the Crimea, where daily news depicts the physical intimidation and violence against anybody bold enough to fly a Ukrainian flag.  Furthermore, the Russian assumption that those who speak Russian must consider themselves Russian is flawed.  Most Russian-speaking Ukrainians see themselves as connected to Russia, but are nonetheless proud Ukrainians.  The same assumption was used by the Germans in annexing Austria in World War II, and we know historically that most German-speaking Austrians were proud Austrians.

Russia is in the wrong. Not just on this issue, but also in the government’s actions against political opponents and the LGBTQ+ community. Extended Russian power means a world with less freedom of speech and affiliation.  How to best respond should be debated endlessly and acted upon relentlessly.  Canada has more than a million people of Ukrainian ancestry.  Make no mistake this crisis involves us.