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The War in Ukraine Is a Battle of Principles

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine reflects his belief in an imperial paradigm that emphasizes the greatness of the state over the rights and dignity of its people. A Russian victory would vindicate this value system and put millions of Eurasians at risk.

BISHKEK – To many Western observers, the war in Ukraine is about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s desire to restore Russia’s sphere of influence and ensure its security against Western – and especially NATO – encroachment. In fact, the war is between two opposing value systems: one based on a country’s historical greatness and global influence, and the other on the worth of citizens and their quality of life.

In a sense, the fundamental difference between East and West was never ideological. During the Cold War, the capitalist Nordic countries were more socialist than the Soviet Union ever was. Rather, the difference was always one of principles. Unlike in the Nordic states, equality and equity were never part of the Soviet Union’s governance system. Despite its declarations, the Soviet system did not uphold human dignity in its actual policies.

When I recently asked my students in the international relations department at Kyrgyz State University what makes a country great, their responses centered on military power, economic development, and geopolitical influence. These answers are rooted in the old paradigm that greatness depends on a state’s ability to dictate policy and bend others to its will.

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