Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Big powers fight, small ones suffer

By He Wei (China Daily) Updated: 2014-12-22 10:20

When Ukrainian protesters camped on Independence Square in Kiev demanding their country join the European Union, they might have not known that the incident could escalate into a major crisis splitting Ukraine and triggering a confrontation between Russia and the West.

The pro-EU rally was followed by a counter-protest in Crimea, propelling the region to hold a referendum and secede from Ukraine. The West and Russia immediately blamed each other for initiating chaos in Ukraine, with the Western powers imposing sanctions on Russia, and the latter taking countermeasures. Many media outlets have termed this tit-for-tat between the West and Russia, and the resultant military threat, the beginning of a second Cold War.

The Ukraine crisis has historical roots, because the eastern and western parts of the country are different in many ways. But it is the antagonism between the West and Russia that intensified the conflicts within Ukraine leading to the division of the country. In other words, Ukraine became the victim of power politics.

The two most important lessons to be learned from Ukraine are, smaller countries often become the victims of political confrontations between big powers, and political stability and integrity are important to prevent a nation from being used by big powers.

Ukraine's future is still unclear, because it depends not on Ukraine, but on the big powers. Will Western economic sanctions soften Russia's stance? Will the West step back? At least up to now there is no indication that either side will stop using Ukraine as a playground. Confrontation between global powers is detrimental to world peace and thwarts efforts to promote global governance. But that's how big powers have always interacted.

Facing economic difficulties because of the Western sanctions, Russia is struggling with its exports and trying to cope with falling oil prices. The West should know that economic sanctions have seldom been effective. Besides, sanctions are a double-edged sword that hurts both sides - countries that impose sanctions also suffer economic losses.

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