The Cold War is history, but Cold War modes of viewing the world persist. The current crisis is playing out in the media as a familiar morality tale of Western innocence and Russian (/Soviet) perfidy. The reality, now as then, is more complicated. A more nuanced and realistic picture is presented by Russia expert Dmitri Simes in an interview with The New Republic‘s John Judis. A key passage:
JJ: Russians now charge that the U.S. and E.U. interfered—they’re blaming the Americans and the European Union—how do you assess the Obama administration’s performance so far?
DKS: I think it has contributed to the crisis. Because there was a legitimate government in Kiev, led by President Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych is a despicable character. He also is inept. He was the principal architect of his own demise. Yet he was legally elected. He commanded a clear majority in the Ukrainian parliament. And essentially the United States and the European Union have decided to side with the protesters. Let me say, too, if they were using that kind of force and those techniques against a friendly government we would not call them protesters, we would call them rebels. We have sided with these protesters slash rebels. We used them to pressure Yanukovych to negotiate a deal, which the European governments fully endorsed, and which had the support of the Obama administration.
When the rebels used the momentum from the deal essentially to remove Yanukovych and his whole government from power, we have accepted that as if it were normal to remove a legally elected government by force. More than 100 deputies from the Rada from the former ruling party, the Party of Regions, would not come to the Rada, and those from the Party of the Regions that voted with the opposition, some of them were clearly intimidated, and others belonged to Ukrainian oligarchs who were allowed to play a role in politics. And while those deputies normally belong to the Party of Regions, actually they were controlled by the oligarchs, who were pressured by the West to change sides. So that’s what led to the new government coming to power in Kiev. You could not ignore this process if you wanted to know why the Russians decided to interfere.
The whole interview is worth reading. And, if you’re interested in exploring further, you should check out The Nation‘s Stephen Cohen, who also offers useful correctives to the dominant narrative. (Cohen, an NYU prof emeritus, was my undergraduate senior seminar teacher.)