Eastern Europe: where the Iron Curtain drops again
Republished by THE GLOCAL
The world has witnessed the protest in Ukraine to come through as one that successfully, not least strenuously, toppled the Russophone president Viktor Yanukovych (at the time of writing, he has been impeached in parliament and fled to the Crimea, a peninsula Nikita Khrushchev gave to Ukraine in 1954 as a friendly gesture) in a climatic showdown over the last week. Known internationally as the Euromaiden, the two-month-long protest and occupation ended up in violent clashes and bloodshed when Yanukovych decided to throw a far-reaching EU trade deal into the trash bin, opting for stronger ties with Russia.
Ukraine, not too much unlike its neighbour Belarus, is naturally deemed to fall under the orbit of Kremlin given their apparent historical and cultural ties (Putin himself called Ukraine a "praternal state"). Connections with the European Union, on the other hand, are questionable to say the least. The EU has refrained from making a serious membership offer to the Eastern European state, despite having vaguely promised membership in the indefinite future.
The slim chance of Ukraine ever sealing the membership deal with EU does not stop Russia from asserting its overwhelming dominance over Ukraine. Every issue relating to the Euromaiden protest is evidential to the impassable gulf between Russia and the rest of the world, yet Ukraine is far from the only country in the region that struggles under the sinister if cliché manipulation of Kremlin.
Another ex-Soviet state, Georgia, was also looking to eventually join the NATO and European Union, and as a result had become a victim of Russian Chauvinism in the Caucasian region, bearing the brunt of the old-but-revived East vs West geopolitical rivalry. The 12-day war in 2008 has made the loss of South Ossetia inevitable for the Caucasian country as Russia won the war and made the separatist province its "protectorate". With the de facto independent Abkhazia and Russian-controlled South Ossetia in sight, one may have trouble contemplating Georgia as a fully-functioning sovereign country.
The heavy dose of drugs prescribed by Kremlin was not without reasons. The Rose Revolution in 2003 has sent Georgia onto the bumpy path towards democratization, and further away in the picture, the European Union. The faint prospect of ever joining the EU also makes reunification with the breakaway provinces a less distant possibility. Not to mention that a strong, democratic and pro-American Georgia would be the least favourite sight of Putin.
Estonia, the tiny baltic state, too has been a victim of Russia's jackboot power. In 2007, the removal of a Soviet-era bronze soldier memorial in central Tallinn became the flash point of street riots. Mobs looted shops, torched government buildings and chanted slogans such as "Fuck Estonia" or "USSR forever". The country was home to thirty thousand ethnic Russian, migrants during the Soviet era, and the population had little appetite for the idea of Estonian independence. While the majority of Estonian Russian did not want the statue removed, it was the neo-Nazi group Nashi groomed by Kremlin that incited violence. To pull Estonia away from good governance is one thing, to strengthen its position as the guardian of overseas Russian is another. Russia passed laws which "forbid" discrimination against their "compatriots", a term that could could be loosely-defined to mean Russian descents as well as anyone who speaks Russian or is even supportive to the Kremlin. Riots in these ex-Soviet countries therefore mean pretexts to intervene in the business of the next door neighbour.
As Anne Applebaum, author of 'Iron Curtain: the crushing of Eastern Europe - 1944-1956', mentioned in an article on Slate: "Russia does not intend to start a war. Russia, rather, intends in the short term to undermine regional confidence in NATO, in U.S. military guarantees, in West European solidarity. In the longer term, Russia wants Scandinavia, the Baltic states, and eventually all of Europe to accept Russian policies in other spheres." The article is fittingly named "The Return of History". However peculiar we find the idea, Russia is employing the passé Cold War tactics on the world, and poor Eastern Europe sits uncomfortably on the front row as it happens. The Iron Curtain has dropped again, if it was really ever lifted.