Thirty years ago, before many of us were even born or in elementary school, there was a Cold War brewing between the two superpowers of the world: the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). As the Cold War progressed with its arms brinkmanship and heavy military spending by both sides, the Soviet Union increasingly struggled economically to keep up with the United States and tried to maintain its essentially unitary political structure, i.e. tamp down nationalist sentiments among the Republics.
As history shows, the USSR, economically spent and tearing apart with nationalism and separatism, collapsed right after Christmas of 1991 with the heavily symbolic step of a dark red Soviet flag being ceremonially lowered at the top of the Kremlin followed by a rising red-blue-white tricolor flag of the Russian Federation. Jump forward to 2014 and that very same tricolor flag has been broadcast worldwide as people waving the flag in cities in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, such as Donetsk, Simferopol, and Sevastopol, are trying to exert political pressure to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia which controlled Ukraine’s territory for over 200 years, citing the heavy predomination of Russian-speaking people in the eastern part of Ukraine and Crimea, the strong cultural ties between that portion of Ukraine and Russia, and pro-Russian political leaders hammering home the idea of rejoining the mother country, along with other contentions.
Fueled by this populist movement to rejoin Russia, Russian and other forces took over strategic locations in Crimea and thereafter annexed the peninsula several weeks ago, while the Crimean leadership held a repeatedly moved-up referendum to formally incorporate the entirety of Crimea, including the autonomous city of Sevastopol, in Russian territory. As the results came in, with approximately 95% of the populace voting their approval to rejoin Russia, the international community, including the European Union (EU), the UN, and the United States, voiced its strident and strongly worded condemnation of the referendum and declared the results void, citing the continued presence of Russian forces on Crimean territory, reports that members of the Crimean parliament voted at gunpoint, and a violation of international and Ukrainian law, among other assertions. As the international community wrangles over the rapidly changing situation in Ukraine and figures out the thorny issue of Ukraine and the Crimea vis-à-vis Russia, it is to be realized that this issue is much more complicated than it seems because of the dysfunctional relationship, close cultural ties, and long history that Ukraine shares with Russia. It is hoped that the Ukrainian crisis is settled as soon as is practical so that a Cold War II between the United States and Russia does not happen anytime soon.