The uprising in Ukraine and the fight between Ukraine and Russia is about many things — Ukraine’s consolidation as a nation, a wounded Russia’s rising nationalism, the uncertainty of a world in which the Cold War is over, analyst Chrystia Freeland writes in a must-read Brookings essay.
“At its heart, however, the conflicts within Ukraine, and the fight Putin has picked with Ukraine, are about post-Soviet kleptocracy, and where and whether there is a popular will to resist it,” she asserts:
Ukrainians today are proud of the democratic episodes in their country’s history, and in Kyiv you are likely to hear the country described as culturally inclined toward democracy. In late November, President Petro Poroshenko celebrated the formation of a new government following October parliamentary elections with a tweet that made this point to his 237,700 followers: “The main difference between Ukraine and Russia isn’t only linguistic , it lies in our differing political cultures and attitudes to freedom and democracy.”
“It is an entirely good thing that Ukraine’s new leaders are defining their national identity as inherently democratic and freedom-loving. But there have been times when Russia might have laid claim to such an identity, too,” Freeland notes:
To take just one example: on August 19, 1991, when Boris Yeltsin climbed on top of a tank in Moscow in front of the White House to defy a hardline coup and assert that “the democratic process in the country is acquiring an increasingly broad sweep and an irreversible character, the peoples of Russia are becoming masters of their destiny.”