MOSCOW – For a generation, relations between the United States and Russia were essentially about history. Since the Cold War’s end, Russia had become increasingly peripheral to the US and much of the rest of the world, its international importance and power seemingly consigned to the past. That era has now ended.
To be sure, the current conflict between the US and Russia over Ukraine is a mismatch, given the disparity in power between the two sides. Russia is not, and cannot even pretend to be, a contender for world domination. Unlike the Soviet Union, it is not driven by some universal ideology, does not lead a bloc of states ruled by the same ideology, and has few formal allies (all of which are small). Yet the US-Russia conflict matters to the rest of the world.
It obviously matters most to Ukraine, part of which has become a battlefield. The future of Europe’s largest country – its shape, political order, and foreign relations – depends very much on how the US-Russian struggle plays out.
It may well be that Ukraine becomes internally united, genuinely democratic, and firmly tied to European and Atlantic institutions; that it is generously helped by these institutions and prospers as a result; and that it evolves into an example for Russians across the border to follow. It may also be that at the end of the day, several Ukraines emerge, heading in different directions.