The struggle over Ukraine’s political system is important to the world for a lot of reasons. In short:
- It matters whether any human population has fair and transparent, democratically accountable government;
- Ukraine is a strategic crossroads, both for political and economic reasons;
- The tension over violence against protesters in Kiev could explode into a regional war that no one can afford;
- A peaceful resolution is an indicator of whether Russia and Europe can work together;
- Ukraine’s strategic value is partly to do with geopolitical spheres of influence, partly about carbon-based energy.
So, what is happening at this hour in Kiev matters to the wider world for moral reasons, for strategic political and economic reasons and because the outcome may determine whether petrostate hegemony will hold sway over the future of more than half a billion people. That authoritarian petrostate model—an outgrowth of both the Soviet dictatorship and the post-Soviet plutocracy in Russia—severely limits the power of individuals and communities to influence government, and to build a more humane, more collaborative, more sustainable future, from the ground up.
The struggle for Ukraine is often painted in medieval, tribalist terms: pro-European Ukrainians and ethnically Russian Ukrainians are said to be engrossed in an ancient cultural feud about who should rule over whom. But the true political dynamic is much more contemporary and much less deep-rooted: Moscow wants the government in Kiev to be a client state that collaborates in the manipulation of energy flows to Europe. Europe wants Kiev to be free of that yoke.
Europe wants this, because Putin has used that leverage to bludgeon Europe with high gas prices, and forced shortages, and thousands have died in hot summer weather as a result. But Europe also wants this because having a desperately beholden Soviet-style client state on its border is not a very good situation for Europe to be in. And there is a real struggle between the open democratic-bureaucratic style of EU government and the authoritarian statist style of Vladimir Putin’s government.
Across the world, at present, there is a struggle between the old owner-access model of statecraft and the new citizen-stakeholder model. In the old model, the naked use of force,whether military or economic, is not only respected and prioritized; it is the guiding principle of state power.
In the new model, the measure of a state’s success is its ability to ensure basic rights for all people, along with advanced education and opportunity, without consideration of sex, race, ethnicity or place of origin, and to provide support for a people’s efforts to work in harmony with nature’s life support systems.
This last point is not part of the discussion in Kiev, but it is a crucial element of political struggles across the world. We are many decades past the point where we need to adopt environmental stewardship and responsible sustainable resource use as organizing principles for civilization.
One of the central questions regarding the work and value of any government anywhere, in our times, is whether or not that government recognizes its responsibility to ecological health and resilience well into the future—which performance may determine the degree to which the human lives it represents will have ready and reliable access to systemic life support mechanisms all people everywhere hope to take for granted.
Whether or not the people of Ukraine are able to carry forward the transition away from violent, corrupt petro-statist authoritarianism will greatly contribute to the direction of other political and economic systems across the region. Vladimir Putin’s regime, in this context, is fighting to maintain feudal control over a nation of 46 million.
Ukraine’s struggle for political independence and electoral transparency is a struggle to free the world from the malign grip of feudal authoritarianism. If Putin challenges that progress, the world community, possibly through the UN Security Council, may be forced to take a position on this question of fundamental organizing principles.