DENVER – Russia’s annexation of Crimea and ongoing intimidation of Ukraine appears to mean the end of a 25-year period whose hallmark was an effort to bring Russia into greater alignment with Euro-Atlantic goals and traditions. Now the question is: What comes next?
As the weeks pass, it is increasingly clear that the challenge is not so much Ukraine – which will continue to lurch from one crisis to the next, as it has since independence 23 years ago – as it is Russia and its regression, recidivism, and revanchism.
Exactly 25 years ago, in the spring of 1989, Poland and other countries of what was then known as the “Eastern Bloc” took the first steps to break free from their forced alliance with the Soviet Union. Indeed, these countries’ relationship with the Soviet Union was no true alliance at all; rather, they were accurately described as “satellites” – states with limited sovereignty, whose main role was to serve Soviet interests.
As subjugating and ahistorical as those relationships were, much of the world accepted the binding of “Eastern Europe” to the Soviet Union as a logical state of affairs, one in keeping with the world order that emerged at the close of WWII. But what seemed like a permanent division of the world into competing spheres of interest suddenly ended in 1989, when the Eastern Bloc left the Soviet orbit, soon followed by the republics of the Soviet Union itself.