March 10th, 2014
10:44 AM ET

West must do better on Ukraine than it did with Syria

By Anna Borshchevskaya, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Anna Borshchevskaya is a fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy. You can follow her @annaborsh. The views expressed are her own.

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has captured the attention of the world, including the Middle East, where many see parallels between the struggle for democracy in Kiev and their own countries. But the unrest in Ukraine has a particularly special meaning for Syria, where peaceful protests against Bashar al-Assad eventually turned violent in the absence of Western support. Ukrainian protesters in Kiev last month, for their part, flew the Syrian revolutionary flag alongside the Ukrainian flag. The big question, though, is whether the West will see the connections that the protesters see – and draw some vital lessons.

From the U.S.-Russia reset, to Syria, to Iran, there has been ample opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to perceive weakness from the West. And in the absence of decisive Western leadership, the post-Soviet space and the Middle East have seen a resurgent Russia, under Putin’s leadership, work to create what amounts to a Soviet Union 2.0, propping up authoritarian regimes, creating areas of influence, and stifling freedom and democracy.

Such moves have prompted some analysts to note what they see as a revival of the Cold War struggle between Russia and the U.S., whether it be the ongoing crisis in Ukraine or the Middle East/North Africa region.

“If you want to know what will happen in Syria you must know what will happen in the Ukraine,” the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) quoted ‘Abbas Daher, a columnist for a Lebanese news site, as saying. “The common denominator between these two issues is the struggle between Russia and the West.”

Indeed, as MEMRI suggests, many in Egypt feel a sense of solidarity with Ukrainian protesters, noting the similarities with their own struggle to overthrow an authoritarian ruler.

Interestingly, media in the Middle East aligned with pro-authoritarian forces, for example in Syria and Iran, have published articles backing Putin’s claim that the West is actually responsible for protests in Ukraine, a mindset that in itself suggests a revival of the kind of pro vs. anti-West media camps seen during the Cold War.

The Russian press, meanwhile, has also made references to the Arab Spring – but very much from the Kremlin’s perspective. Late last month, for example, RIA Novosti reported that Russian Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov had compared the events in Ukraine with the Arab Spring. In both cases, he asserted, while such protests began with dissatisfaction with the ruling elite and poor economic conditions, they can end with “extremists” taking over. This point of view has been driven home by other Russian language publications, which have been keen to compare the “chaos” and “extremism” in Ukraine with the Arab Spring.

This is no coincidence. The Arab Spring no doubt alarmed Putin, who must surely have feared that his citizens would draw their own lessons and look to overthrow him. What has happened in Ukraine therefore hits very close to home, and so it isn’t surprising that Putin has redoubled his efforts to influence events there and tried to impose his will on Crimea. Claiming that the West orchestrated the protests in Ukraine and that anti-government protests inevitably end with “extremists” goes hand in hand with such efforts.

Now, despite some reassuring words from the United States, many in Ukraine feel they are isolated and alone in the shadow of an overbearing Russia. According to Nataliya Jensen, an independent Ukrainian analyst I spoke with this week who recently returned from Kiev, many in the country yearn for a more decisive show of support from the West for Ukrainian democracy. With these sentiments in mind, Western leaders and their allies – from Georgia to Morocco – need to demonstrate that what is happening in Ukraine mattes to them, and that embracing a pro-Western agenda will ensure Western support when it is needed most.

Sadly, many in Syria saw no sign of such Western support and in desperation have long since turned to the arms of extremist groups. It is essential that the West doesn’t give Ukrainians a reason to feel similarly hopeless.​

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Topics: Syria • Ukraine

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soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. Joseph McCarthy

    Who is this Anna Borshchevskaya to say that we should do anything about Ukraine and thus sticking our noses into where we have absolutely no business at all? The idiotic policy is why we're broke and no only that it makes us the most hated country in the world today. This sorely needs to stop once and for all!

    March 10, 2014 at 10:55 am |
    • bobcat2u

      I agree Joseph, this Anna alphabet person is obviously one of the Ukranians who was pro EU entry. This is totally an internal issue and should be handled as thus. The world at large has been trying to push us into every conflict that is happening right now. We are finally winding down on the last ill conceived invasion we were thrust into and it's time to bring everyone homes and let those that holler the loudest, especially a lot of these posters, to jump in and take a shot at it. Our warriors have done far more than should have ever been expected of them and time to stop. If you want to continue our involvement, at least reinstate the draft as it was in my day. At least that way it will give a rotation of fresh troops and it will certainly shut a lot of these computer warriors up.

      March 10, 2014 at 2:13 pm |
      • j. von hettlingen

        The author hasn't urged the US to put boots on the ground. Syria and Ukraine can't be compared to one another. In both cases, villains take advantage of the war-fatigue in the West to advance their aggression and achieve their goals. It is very sad, that autocratic regimes get what they want, just because we in the West, are wary of any interference, fearing an escalation and a spreading out of the crisis.

        March 12, 2014 at 9:36 am |
  2. yt75

    The reality of today's world summarized :

    Oil situation :
    Leading to :

    In other words current crisis is primarily a monstruous oil shock, and only the beginning.

    Reminder :
    Contrary to the legend on the above graph (barrel price), the first oil shock was much more the direct consequence of US 1970 oil production peak :
    Associated to the rebalance of barrels revenues between majors and countries, and dropping of B Woods in 71 and associated $ devaluation.
    The "embargo" an epiphenomenon, very limited, lasted 3 months, but pratical to hide US peak and "put the blame" on "the Arabs".

    Geopolitical summary :

    March 10, 2014 at 11:11 am |
    • Eric Thompson

      We definitely do not need to go to war. But freezing their assets & revoking their visas cost us little and hurts them a lot.
      We don't need their oil. We get enough oil and gas from fracking to tell the USSR to kiss off. The largest problem with the scenario is that this is the third country Putin has invaded. Does anyone seriously think he will stop until he has the entire old eastern block back under his control? Ask the Georgians how much they trust him. One issue coming out of this debacle is that no country in the world will again agree to give up their nukes. They would be stupid to do so.

      March 11, 2014 at 2:15 pm |
      • yt75

        This story is primarily a US/EU organised coup, get real.
        Ever heard of :
        heard about ? :
        Or not ?

        March 11, 2014 at 2:40 pm |
      • yt75

        As to oil, didn't say you neede d Putin oil.
        The point is :
        US is still number 1 (or 2 behinf China) NET OIL IMPORTER :
        The "US soon independent" is pure propaganda.
        Looking at the figures is not forbidden.
        Plus what is even more important is the oil market in $.
        Iraq ware rings a bell ?

        March 11, 2014 at 2:48 pm |
  3. matslats

    What does it mean 'the west must do better'?
    The author hasn't even said what is the role of the West!
    Just as well, for then she would have to recount how USA is funding, training, equipping & supporting both the bloodthirsty Islamic militants in Syria and grass-roots neo-nazi thugs overthrowing an elected government in Ukraine.

    March 10, 2014 at 12:54 pm |
  4. chrissy

    EXACTLY @ Joseph and @ bobcat! And i like the Anna alphabet part too bobcat lol! We need to STOP being the world police! Thats the job of the UN and they need to get a little better at it cuz right now they stink at it!

    March 10, 2014 at 10:43 pm |
    • ✠RZ✠

      When the survival of a government becomes dependent more so upon the support of other nations or foreign enterprise, it's own underlying nation will eventually become second rate, or much less. Washington cannot afford, nor needs to answer to America. Clearly, the Ukraine is more important.

      March 11, 2014 at 12:15 am |
      • Joseph McCarthy

        Good grief RZ, how can a country half way around the world where we have absolutely no business be important to us? Besides, the only international support America really needs is countries like China and J apan loaning us their money. Without it, the right-wing politicians in Washington will gut both Medicare and Social Security and close more of our schools and libraries and defund our already crumbling infrastructure. Do you want that? I don't!

        March 11, 2014 at 11:40 am |
  5. chrissy

    @ RZ, Seriously?? Or were you being sarcastic? (i hope)

    March 11, 2014 at 10:07 am |
    • ✠RZ✠

      Ukraine? Heck, I'm talking about right here kids! Washington doesn't give a rats ass about America anymore and has to move on to anywhere it can to derive some form of real income. America has been abandoned, left jobless, without gold, in debt way over it's eyeballs, still losing about a $trillion a year, and in a currency that's about to tank globally to boot. The return on investment is elsewhere. Not here.

      March 12, 2014 at 7:35 pm |
  6. Wills

    I would expect that someone associated with the "European Foundation for Democracy" would be concerned about the lack of democracy in Ukraine at the moment. The democratically elected President was run out of the country and now there is a group of unelected replacements saying they are "mobilizing forces" and "preparing for war".

    March 11, 2014 at 1:12 pm |
  7. Emmi

    The USA needs to mind their own business. We have too many of our own problems. It is now up to us to be the police of the world. The last time we need is another war to fight.

    March 11, 2014 at 1:34 pm |
    • Zach

      Thank you, Emmi. How so very true that rings!

      March 11, 2014 at 4:01 pm |
  8. bobcat2u

    Just why must it always be that the "west" has to do a better job about something ? These individuals in Ukraine overthrow their government because they were displeased by a choice it made and now that the fire has been tuned on under their frying pan. they expect the world to bail their butts out. If one would just take the time to think about consequences before the fact, perhaps the knee jerk reactions to many things would be handled differently. In any case this is an internal matter and none of our business.

    March 11, 2014 at 2:34 pm |
    • Zach

      I couldn't agree more! Thank you, bobcat2u.

      March 11, 2014 at 4:02 pm |
      • Ukrainian

        You are right! If I would be American, I would go on strike. This self-elected PM of Ukraine will meet with Obama on Wednesday . Just check their profiles ( two oligarch) .. do your home work and you will see .. two corrupted individuals who seized the power in Kiev with money from Euro Union. 1% of the population; that's why all east and south of the Ukraine on strike It is not about Putin, it is about the new self-elected government, which people of Ukraine just want to get rid of. It is disgusting how media present all situation.

        March 12, 2014 at 10:10 am |
  9. Eric B

    "All it takes for evil to prevail is that good men do nothing." – Edmund Burke

    Putin is a bully. He likes to push around all the little kids on the playground and he knows that the teachers (UN and other international organizations) won't do anything about it. He intimidates his smaller neighbors to stay loyal to him. If he wants something, he takes it. This crisis is an excuse for him to seize permanent access to the Black Sea for his navy without fear of being evicted and simultaneously intimidate the people of Ukraine into staying away from Europe. Those international laws can be such a bummer, which is why Putin tends to ignore them. And hostile takeover is so much better than paying rent.

    The international community shouldn't tolerate bullies. Like it or not, the US is still the most powerful nation in the free world, which is why democracy-loving people tend to turn to us for help. We're the only ones in any kind of position to stand up to Putin. Am I saying we should go to war with Russia? No, that would be a very bad thing. But we shouldn't just bury our heads in the sand and let bullies like Putin do whatever they want to whoever they want.

    March 12, 2014 at 5:25 am |
    • Chenko

      Eric B is absolutely correct. Also, this is not about U.S. invading and occupying another country. Putin is doing much more than invading a country, he will both occupy and simply own the country, if allowed to do so. Breaking any and all international treaties that even Russia has signed off on. Most of the posters on this blog are delusional or simply ignorant in their analysis of what is happening in Ukraine. ie. They have not banned Russian language, the government in Ukraine was put in place by 'elected' Rada, even from the deposed Presidents's party representatives.
      The Ukrainian people just simply want to be free, free from 'extortion' and all other forms of corruption.

      March 12, 2014 at 10:42 am |
      • Edu Tritten

        Yes, its better invade and own a country but putting a puppet governement who help to sack the country in a more overhanded western way. then the troup of fmi World Bank and other pirats can march over kiev. Grenada 1983; Nicaragua 1985; Panama 1989; Iraq 1991; Haiti 1994; Yugoslavia 1995; Afghanistan, Sudan 1998; Yugoslavia 1999;Afghanistan 2001; Iraq 2003 Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan 2002 – to the present; Libya 2011 are cases of "humanitarian intervention"

        March 12, 2014 at 3:19 pm |
    • Chenko

      'If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.'
      The Russian supported propagandist on this blog are doing this very well, both on this blog and many, many others. That's what they do the best. Where did that quote come from?

      March 12, 2014 at 10:55 am |
  10. ROB

    Eric B are you delusional, are you not aware of the countless countries America has invaded without pretext? Does Kosovo sound familiar? If Kosovo chose to break away, why cant Crimea? Crimea has a majority of 60% more so after the banning of the russian language in ukraine, russian tv channels have also been banned, by the maidan elected parliament who do not represent the entire Ukraine. Crimeans are bombarded with the same propaganda that you read on pro-Western sites, yet there is no outrage in Crimea, as Crimeans are first hand witnesses of false pro-western propoganda.

    March 12, 2014 at 8:26 am |
    • Chenko

      Maidan did not elect Rada. Existing Rada elected officials changed the government.
      Crimea is not 60% Russian citizens. They are all Ukrainians, some with dual citizenship, but they are all Ukrainian nationals. They, the majority, want to remain in Ukrainian territory, but are fearful to speak, or vote otherwise because of repercussions to themselves and their families. I lived and worked in Ukraine for over a decade. Recently. Crimea is being occupied illegally by Putin and his thugs.

      March 12, 2014 at 11:18 am |
  11. toomanyhypocrites

    Hope there is war and they send my neighbors kids. They play loud music.

    March 12, 2014 at 9:30 am |
  12. toomanyhypocrites

    America is broke and in decline. That's why the EU and Russia and the rest of the world don't listen to America.
    Also, EU didn't want this CIA constructed putsch.
    Also, the world is very sick of America's unbridled hypocrisy!

    March 12, 2014 at 9:33 am |
  13. toomanyhypocrites

    Ukrainian billionaires win with American taxpayers billions!
    Kerry over in Ukraine dropping billions of American taxpayers $$$ like he is a drunken santa claus

    March 12, 2014 at 9:35 am |
  14. toomanyhypocrites

    The War pump is on!
    The billionaires and their puppets want your money and blood!

    March 12, 2014 at 9:38 am |
  15. Power Greed & Hunger

    I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on the subject but have been keeping a close eye on the matter and it realty seems to be pure logic. How I see it...

    – America doesn't need another huge expense of war regardless of the power it has. America needs to take care of their own issues, debts and people. There's a body called "UN" and "Nato" , as you all aware, are formed to monitor and protect these situations.
    – The majority of Crimea wants to join Russia so why not let them. After all, Ukraine is broke and losing the area would cost them less. They can't protect in anyhow without foreign aid.
    – Yes Putin may be harsh but let's be clear and honest here. How many countries has America invaded to protect their interest and satisfy their needs ? So why wouldn't Putin protect his interest to protect Russia ?
    -Ukraine has wanted to join the UN for years but can't due to foreign boots on their soil, ir" Crimea. Now they can if Crimea is annexed by Russia.
    – Last but not least, who the hell do these leaders think they are who start "useless" wars, creating casualties in so many families then don't support, care or look after their veterans in the aftermath ? If a cold war would occur all these leaders would be hiding in the international space station drinking together. Sweet.

    The general public is very well educated today and know through international media that our leaders are all corrupt no matter where they are. It's been proven over and over again. We don't believe the propaganda and just want to live a short life without casualties of loved ones so "war" is not the answer.

    March 12, 2014 at 10:13 am |
    • Chenko

      'I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on the subject'
      You should have stopped your post on that comment. You're certainly not an expert on Ukraine, or why they have changed (through Rada elected action).......... their government.
      You don't have a clue what this is all about.

      March 12, 2014 at 11:12 am |
      • Marine5484

        But I do, Chenko. Between 882 and 1240 AD, Kiev was the capitol of the old Russia when the Mongols came and destroyed that city. Tell. just me, exactly when was Kiev the capitol city of America and just how many Ukrainians are ethnically American of even English for that matter? In other words, we Americans have no right to butt in, none whatsoever!

        March 12, 2014 at 7:50 pm |
  16. Ukrainian

    I am happy to read many comments on this website and see that most of the people actually have figured out what is happening actually in Ukraine. It is true Ukrainians billionaires want Americans money. One of them who is visiting US now is the banker... Americans don't trust the self-elected government- gang in Ukraine backed and sponsored by Euro Union. They hired even snipers to kill innocent demonstrates and police and create this chaos. Listen to conversation on you tube "A leaked phone call between the EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet has revealed that the two discussed a conspiracy theory that blamed the killing of civilian protesters in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on the opposition rather than the ousted government.

    The 11-minute conversation was posted on YouTube – it is the second time in a month that telephone calls between western diplomats discussing Ukraine have been bugged."

    March 12, 2014 at 10:28 am |
    • Chenko

      You have got to be completely delusional to post that. Ukrainians do not agree with you and you should not be calling yourself Ukrainian. The protestors were not killed by their own group. I've listened to the you tube conversation and did not come to the conclusion that you have.

      March 12, 2014 at 11:07 am |
  17. Michael Breeze

    I love how most of those comments posted by Russians and lovers of conspiracy theories. Myself as a soldier who has served in Yugoslavian war we must not let Russia push its stagnation and corruption back into Ukraine, its our duty to make sure Ukraine wins this conflict. Otherwise Russia won't stop and Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary will be the next ones destabilized and turned back 25 years of progress. Russia atrocious corruption, inability to produce anything on world market except gas and oil talks about itself. Stop moaning about Syria, it's Russia who veto against us taking direct action, so stop praising Russia for helping tyrants and then blaming USA right after for losing political ground in Syria.

    March 12, 2014 at 10:29 am |
    • Chenko

      Russian love conspiracy theories, one of their main topics of everyday conversations. Especially about the Western countries. Any comparison to events is Russian rubbish. Apples and oranges being compared.

      March 12, 2014 at 11:01 am |
    • Wim Roffel

      It looks like you are not aware how the Yugoslav conflict started. It started with Slovenia and Croatia – two rich provinces that believed they could do better alone than connected with poorer regions – suddenly got support from the US and the EU who thought that a nice way to stick it to Milosevic who was painted as pro-Russian. For optimal effect the US encouraged Croatia to treat its Serb minority badly.

      Now we see the same play in Ukraine. The new rulers could at any moment make some gestures to pacify the fears of Ukraine's Russian speakers and the inhabitants of the Crimea – who over the years have seen their autonomy almost completely eroded. Instead they choose confrontation and send in neo-Nazi militias.

      March 12, 2014 at 3:15 pm |
  18. Ukrainian

    A leaked phone call between the EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet has revealed that the two discussed a conspiracy theory that blamed the killing of civilian protesters in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on the opposition rather than the ousted government.

    The 11-minute conversation was posted on YouTube – it is the second time in a month that telephone calls between western diplomats discussing Ukraine have been bugged.

    March 12, 2014 at 10:29 am |

    Hope the Obama administration help Ukraine and specially eastern Europe and the way to do it is to decrease the Kremlin strngle hold on gas in the region, Too many of these countries are dependent on these thugs.

    March 12, 2014 at 10:31 am |
  20. Ukrainian

    It is not about Putin, Ukrainians don't want this new government oligarchs and are happy to join Russia than have this mob to be in power.

    March 12, 2014 at 10:35 am |
  21. Alex

    West shouldn't do ANYTHING in Ukraine!

    March 12, 2014 at 5:27 pm |
  22. Alex

    March 12, 2014 at 5:28 pm |
  23. Alex

    Correspondence of US Army Attache Assistant in Kiev:

    March 12, 2014 at 5:29 pm |

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