If it had not been for the loss of life during the events of the so-called Arab Spring, the events in Ukraine could be described as unprecedented in recent history. Unfortunately, it is more of the same.
Tensions between pro-European and pro-Russian forces have simmered for years, stoked by the United States and the European Union, as well as by the reaction – always somewhat shady – of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The recent clashes, however, have revealed a new force – of neo-Nazis – that rivals only the Ukrainian police in the level of violence it uses.
The West has always shown sympathy for popular uprisings in the countries of the former Soviet Union against Russian influence. Of course, the Soviet Empire was by and large governed by non-Russians. Joseph Stalin, for example, was Georgian, and both his successors, Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, were Ukrainian. Putin is a Russian. He was born in St Petersburg, but as a high-ranking officer of the KGB he has gone to pains to erase all trace of his ancestry.
Serious analysts had predicted an outburst of violence in Ukraine during the Winter Olympics at Sochi. They argued that a Russian military intervention would be unlikely while the country hosted such an international event. They were right, but the solution to the Ukrainian problem, whatever form it may take, will need the backing of Russia.
Western powers tried to expose Putin ahead of the Games by accusing him of violating the rights of homosexuals in his country. Putin was unmoved and the Games are proceeding without incident.
In a recent telephone conversation that was made public, the powerful new figure at the US State Department, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, was heard lambasting the European Union to the US ambassador in Kiev. The conversation was tapped by Russian intelligence and posted online, and Nuland accused Moscow of inappropriate behavior.
The Europeans, meanwhile, took issue with the whole affair and EU heavyweights Angela Merkel of Germany and Francois Hollande of France announced their intention to create a communication network in Europe that would be safe from the kind of surveillance exercised by American security forces.
The world has become a garden of miracles and oddities.
In his memoirs – which are decidedly duller than those of his contemporary Prince Talleyrand – Prince Metternich expressed disappointment with the Habsburg monarchy and suggested that if he had been a radical (which was tantamount to what a terrorist is today) he would bring down the regime.
Today, it is not the rebels we have to worry about but, rather, the recklessness of our leaders.