A Bone of Contention in a Globalized World

21 march 2014

Ukraine as a Target of International Selfishness and Ambition

Boris Zazhigaev, Ph.D in Political Science, is professor, head of the Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy and Deputy Director of the Kyiv International University, Ukraine.

Resume: Due to the fragmentation of the state and social degradation, Ukraine will not be able to position itself as an independent actor in world politics. Ukraine’s future can be regarded exclusively from the standpoint of the selfish interests of geopolitical actors and the ambitions of their political elites.

In the context of the twenty-first-century globalized world, Ukraine is destined to play a pivotal role as the junction of civilizations, precisely in the same manner the country did numerous times in the past. Such a role largely determines Ukraine’s geopolitical status as a buffer territory, in which conflicts play out between branches of Christianity and European and Asian cultures.

In the twenty-first century, controlling Ukrainian territory has become extremely critical. In contrast to past events, this control has acquired a new and far greater geopolitical significance.


After the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the bipolar system of international relations, global politics underwent tectonic shifts. The temporary easing of tensions in international politics after Russia lost its status as a center of power actually put an end to the world order that had emerged after World War II. The collapse of the bipolar system of international relations not only buried the basic principles upon which the world order had rested, but also created a moral, ideological, and political vacuum. Subsequently, world politics, devoid of a political scientific basis, moved into a virtual and utopian state. In his work The End of History?, Francis Fukuyama described this condition as: “The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism. In the past decade, there have been unmistakable changes in the intellectual climate of the world’s two largest communist countries, and the beginnings of significant reform movements in both. But this phenomenon extends beyond high politics and it can be seen also in the ineluctable spread of consumerist Western culture in such diverse contexts as the peasants’ markets and color television sets now omnipresent throughout China, the cooperative restaurants and clothing stores opened in the past year in Moscow, the Beethoven piped into Japanese department stores, and the rock music enjoyed alike in Prague, Rangoon, and Tehran.”

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. …”

“…Тhe automatic assumption that Russia shorn of its expansionist communist ideology should pick up where the czars left off just prior to the Bolshevik Revolution is therefore a curious one.”

This utopian state of global affairs lasted throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s – as long as the West, euphoric over the abrupt and unpredicted collapse of the Soviet Union, was obsessed with liberal-democratic expectations of a new tide of democracy (sometimes even calling the post-Soviet states ‘emerging democracies’). Moreover, forecasts were made about a “fourth wave” of democratization, which would flood the remaining autocratic enclaves in China, the Muslim world, and the African continent.

In describing and analyzing global political trends, many researchers yielded to the temptation (quite understandable in the context of the euphoria over the policy of perestroika, the subsequent collapse of communism, and the launch of democratic reforms) to perceive modern political transformations as a straight-line process – from the collapse of authoritarianism to a gradual construction of consolidated liberal democracy.

However, the new post-Soviet countries witnessed the emergence of a different reality. Indeed, the process of degradation took them back to the point of departure along a road they had not walked yet. And nobody was eager to reformat communism, which, generally speaking, is impossible to do. Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika had a fatal effect on the process of democratization in post-Soviet territories. Even those prerequisites for democracy that Gorbachev had created were instantly wiped out by the procedurally and institutionally universal states, which cropped up in conditions created under Soviet totalitarianism.

Frederick Nietzsche had good reason to distrust socialism with its ideas of equality and justice. He argued that those ideas disagreed with human nature and eroded the human soul. He maintained that socialism “secretly prepares for reigns of terror, and drives the word ‘justice’ like a nail into the heads of the semi-educated masses, to rob them completely of their reason.” It would be naive to think that the Communist pseudo-elite would start building democracy on the criminal and agonizing ruins of the Soviet Union to the detriment of its own interests. So, the “curious” possibility that Fukuyama questioned materialized in 2013. Naturally, in the process of forming a universal state the innate instinct of the struggle for survival, which is found in all living creatures, gained the upper hand.


Alvin Toffler described this new reality in post-Soviet states as an antipode hindering the advancement of “third wave” liberal democracy and predicted the further collapse of existing totalitarian political systems.

A “new type of individual” appeared in post-Soviet territories along with a new type of civil society, which Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev once called “the Soviet people.” That “civil society” created a new kind of public relations, which the Czech playwright Vaclav Havel accurately defined as absurdity. (Havel, whose plays are an outstanding example of the Theater of the Absurd, frequently sets his plays in a fictional country called Absurdistan. In that country, the ruler dictates absurd rules to his subjects; in turn, the people accept the rules and, worst of all, persuade themselves that everything is normal.) That post-Soviet type of individual, who is primitive by nature, seeks to make the best use of the benefits of civilization, or the liberal world.

The post-Soviet states are anonyms of the “third wave” civilization. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the repudiation of the hypnotic “religion” of Marxism-Leninism, liberal democratic achievements have become sought-after benchmarks. By virtue of mental inertia, this is not an attempt to achieve the essence of the goal; rather an endeavor to copy the form and shape that is typical of a primitive society. While studying democratic processes, U.S. political scientist Larry Diamond argues in his book Is the Third Wave Over? that “the trends of increasing (or persisting) disorder, human rights violations, legislative and judicial inefficacy, corruption, and military impunity and prerogatives have been evident in other third-wave democracies around the world – not only in major countries like Turkey and Pakistan, but smaller ones, such as Zambia and most of the electoral regimes of the former Soviet Union. Indeed, in the former Soviet Union, Africa, parts of Asia, and the Middle East, elections themselves are increasingly hollow and uncompetitive, a thin disguise for the authoritarian hegemony of despots and ruling parties.”

In the new context of the “third wave,” global politics have not experienced radical socio-political changes capable of fundamental influence. The main trend observed in the policies of post-Soviet states is backtracking to primitive social organization forms, including a terrorism-based type of state. At first this manifests itself in domestic policies, and then it is extrapolated to the entire system of international relations. Liberal democracy and advanced socialism have not converged (as was predicted and expected in the early 1990s (Francis Fukuyama, Andrei Sakharov). Despite globalization process, global civilization is evolving along two vectors. Solid grounds exist to suggest that another Cold War is developing between Russia and the bloc of liberal-democratic states, of which the United States is the indisputable leader.

After Russian President Vladimir Putin won election for a third term in 2012, the essence of world politics underwent a tectonic change. Putin wants to use Russia’s foreign policy global hegemony to unite leading totalitarian and authoritarian capitalist countries around his own totalitarian country with a distinct trend towards militarization. On May 6, 2013, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev described the Russian army’s rearmament program as unprecedented: “We have several major rearmament programs to be completed by 2020. It is very good that our budget allows for addressing such tasks. Now we have one goal to attain under the state defense contract program and under the program for upgrading the defense-industrial complex – to build up the level of new armaments on active duty to 70-75%, and in some respects, to 100%… I believe that this can only be compared to what we had during World War II and after. I do hope that we shall be able to implement all this, because it is very important to maintaining the country’s defenses.

In 2007, President of Tel Aviv University Azar Gat described this process in the following way: “A more important problem is rooted in the rise of big non-democratic states. It’s about old rivals of the West in a Cold War – China and Russia where remains the rule of authoritarian, rather capitalistic than communist regime… Today it seems, they are ready to return.” This trend has now been blown out of proportion. Russia and China will be able to slow down negative processes in the economy and the social-economic sector for a while at the expense of their militarist and totalitarian aspirations – first for the sake of socio-political consolidation inside the country, and, in the longer term, by extrapolating that policy to the entire sphere of international relations. There is just no other way of stemming the process of decay in Russia and the erosion of China in the modern context.

In fact, the world has returned to an era of confrontation, but amid different geopolitical conditions and in the context of globalization. The main geopolitical feature of this new era is Europe (the Old World), which has undergone qualitative changes. The gist of these changes is that the collapse of the Soviet Union plunged Europe into its natural state – a regional multipolar system of international relations. Over a very brief historical period, Europe has developed an awareness of the new quality of its position and of the risks and advantages of globalization. This awareness and its practical implementation in the form of a new international alliance – the European Union with its greatest degree of economic, political, and cultural integration – have changed Europe’s role in global politics and in the structure of international relations. The European Union has become a global actor in world politics. Europe is no longer a battlefield in a nuclear war between two poles in the context of a bipolar system of international relations. Rather, Europe has transformed itself into an international community that is already taking the place of a pole in world politics. Europe is capable of competing in all spheres and pursues specific geopolitical interests in accordance with its new status, especially that of a superpower.


In this new geopolitical situation, Ukraine has found itself at the intersection of interests between leading global actors. Ukraine is the point where rising centers of power are trying to use their geostrategic capabilities and opportunities.

Ukraine lies on the border of different climate zones. The country’s distance from oceans in continental Eurasia and mostly flat terrain are the chief factors for the region’s moderate continental climate, which gradually changes from west to east. Those factors, in combination with fertile soil and a vast natural network of navigable rivers, have made Ukraine economically attractive for its neighbors throughout history. Also, those factors determined Ukraine’s fate as a “bone of contention” between the West and the East. Over the past centuries, Ukraine has been torn apart by the world’s largest powers: the Golden Horde, Russia, Poland, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany, and Sweden. The struggle for influence over Ukraine and Ukrainian territories was the root cause that prevented the emergence of Ukrainian national statehood throughout its recorded history.

Ukraine’s complex and multiethnic population is the chief instrument that global centers of power use to apply pressure for their strategic interests. During Ukraine’s two decades of independence, the state, as an integral political entity, has been abolished as a result of official social and economic policies. Ukraine has become a territory of competing criminal clans and groups, while the people are nothing but fertile soil for all sorts of parasites and racketeers to thrive on. But as Russian religious and political philosopher Ivan Ilyin wrote in 1948 in his book About the Future of Russia: “It was very wrong of them to think that once they have mastered all the brigandish tricks, they have also mastered the political skills. A resourceful “assassin” [like Yanukovych – B.Z.] is not yet a politician and all his hustle and bustle has only one meaning – it is a hindrance to others doing real government work.”

Today Ukraine is a fragmented country torn apart by kleptocracy and terrorist groups. It is hard to describe Ukrainian domestic policies in any other way than domestic terrorism. John Locke described statehood as a social phenomenon: “Men being by nature all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent. The only way by which any one divests himself of his natural liberty and puts on the bonds of civil society is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living... When any number of men have so consented to make one community or government, they are thereby presently incorporated, and make one body politic, wherein the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest.” Currently, Ukraine’s public mind has lost the basics of public accord as the groundwork of civil society. The people no longer exist as an integral political organism (“body politic”), but belong to a variety of groups (primitive tribes) or, stripped of both natural and contractual rights, have found themselves below the level of natural condition.

When people have lost their contractual rights, society becomes witness to a process that French Enlightenment philosopher Paul-Henri Thiry described in his work National Politics (1773). “The state has no citizens any more,” he wrote. “It begins to be filled with vicious creatures detached from their country, whose sole inspiration is the unbridled lust for wealth, pleasure and frivolous lifestyles.” This reification of human beings is happening in Ukraine in the twenty-first century.

Enlightenment lawyer and essayist Cesare Beccaria, the author of On Crimes and Punishments, wrote: “Liberty is at an end whenever the laws permit that, in certain cases, a man may cease to be a person, and become a thing. Then will the powerful employ their address to select from the various combinations of civil society all that is in their own favor. This is that magic art, which transforms subjects into beasts of burden, and which, in the hands of the strong, is the chain that binds the weak and incautious. Thus it is that in some governments, where there is all the appearance of Liberty, tyranny lies concealed, and insinuates itself into some neglected corner of the constitution, where it gathers strength insensibly.

In this kind of situation, the state is a mafia-like group that, alongside other mafias (oligarchic, multi-vectored, East or West-leaning terrorist groups), is fighting for the right to pillage territories and rob the population. This situation is a product of a centuries-long history, which ripened in independent Ukraine during the rule of Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma, Viktor Yushchenko, and Viktor Yanukovych.

Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in Discourses (Book III, Chapter VIII) about the influence of corrupt leaders on society: “To usurp supreme and absolute authority… in a free state, and subject it to tyranny, the people must have already become corrupt by gradual steps from generation to generation.”

The socio-political events of December 2013 to March 2014 revealed the degree of decay that has affected the system of government and of public degradation in Ukraine. Ivan Ilyin wrote: “People unaccustomed to political freedom will never understand or appreciate it; they will misuse it for desertion, robbery and massacre and then sell it to tyrants for personal or class privileges… They cut pillars fancying themselves Atlant-like titans capable of holding the edifice of the state on their shoulders. They planted dynamite in the delusion they would be able to blast off the roof alone and that a new one will promptly grow over the building. They sowed the wind only to reap the whirlwind and be left wondering how come the wave has capsized their fragile sailboat…

Ukraine’s unique geopolitical position in a globalized world will most probably result in fatal effects for the country. I described some of them back in 2012 in my book The Evolution of Post-Soviet Political Systems (Transition from Communism to Kleptocracy): “There is no doubt that in a situation where no tectonic political and socio-economic reform is in sight, the collapse of the system of government and loss of independence and territories will be the final destination in the foreseeable future.”

Hardly any argument can question my conclusion; moreover, it can be fully extrapolated to international relations. It would be naive to analyze Ukraine’s prospects while relying on the seriousness of populist statements by Russian politicians about common ethnic and cultural roots, or proclamations by liberal democrats to admit Ukraine to the common European home. As Machiavelli noted, “a people, into whom corruption has thoroughly entered, cannot live in freedom, I do not say for a short time, but for any time at all.”

* * *

Ukraine today is a country with a unique geopolitical position, but at the same time unable, by virtue of the collapse of its statehood, to side with any one of the global geopolitical actors. In fact, Ukraine is unable to derive any benefits at all from its unique geopolitical position. The degree of decay constitutes a fatal threat not only to the liberal democracies of the West, but also to Russia. The geopolitical discord between the European Union, the United States, and Russia boils down to the promotion of personal geopolitical interests. In a globalized world no one will rush to help a decaying, dying neighboring state. Instead, everybody will wait for the sad outcome. And they will not only wait, but also try to derive benefit from it.

Apparently, it would be appropriate to take a look at the problem from David Hume’s point of view, which he formulated in A Treatise on Human Nature: “Political writers tell us, that in every kind of intercourse, a body politic is to be considered as one person; and indeed this assertion is so far just, that different nations, as well as private persons, require mutual assistance; at the same time that their selfishness and ambition are perpetual sources of war and discord.”

Due to ongoing internal political processes of fragmentation of the state and social degradation, Ukraine will not be able to position itself as an independent actor in world politics. Ukraine’s future can be regarded exclusively from the standpoint of the selfish interests of geopolitical actors and the ambitions of their political elites and leaders.

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