The popular pro-Western revolution in Ukraine that has deposed pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich is part of a far wider and longer historical tug-of-love between the West and Russia.
Who is chosen to succeed Yanukovich will decide whether it is possible to forge a permanent Ukrainian settlement that will satisfy both the European Union and Russia. The prospect right now looks bleak.
As candidates start lining up for the elections slated for May, no one has emerged with the suitable stature, political sophistication, public integrity and plain honesty needed to put to rest a lingering dispute about national identity that has cast a long shadow over the politics of Europe. Tensions between Russia and the Western European powers, particularly Germany, France and Britain, have been rumbling for centuries.
The Western nations have long viewed Russia as a nation of barely house-trained thugs and drunkards, clinging to the edge of the civilized world. Russians, meanwhile, think of Europe as starting at the Urals and rolling westward — with Moscow undeniably a European city. Mikhail Gorbachev, whose attempts at reforming Marxism-Leninism failed to keep the Soviet Union together, always put Western nerves on edge when he spoke fondly of Russia’s “common European home.”
The nature of this East-West divide was disguised after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia, as the cultural chasm was redefined as ideological. From the time of Vladimir Lenin’s October Revolution in St. Petersburg, which ended the reign of the despotic tsars for good, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the West has thought of Russia as communist first and Russian second.