Expectations and Frustrations: An analysis to the historical past of political interactions between Ukraine and Russia

Translated by: Daniela Aires and Tiago Jorge


In the article that follows, an analysis will be made of the most recent events in European territory, events that came to change the dynamics of the current International System, as well as shake the foundations of International Law, which often see themselves pierced. With the current international situation that imposes itself, it proves to be of great priority to reflect on the historical past, or rather, on the tempo tríbio of the issue. That is, how the consequences of the past influence the present, just as the present has the power to define the future. In this context, the situation resulting from Ukraine has the capacity to indicate a possible emergence of a new international order. The question is whether it overcomes an obstacle to Democracy, as well as to its stability at an international level.

Keywords: Democracy, Ukraine, International Relations, Russia, Cold War


The recent events that have devastated Europe are subject to different interpretations within the scope of International Relations (IR). The war that broke out in Ukraine is one of these events, having already been anticipated by several recognized names in the field of IR, some of them being Henry Kissinger, John Mearsheimer or Chomsky.

This war has weakened the country’s democratic entities, as well as everything that has been conquered, regarding the level of Human Rights, being the Ukrainian territory, at the moment, the scene of atrocities such as sexual assault, torture, brute force, and gender and racial discrimination, being clear violations of the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations. Faced with this scenario, we are compelled to ask: is democracy coming to know the end of its dominance in the international order?

What is certain is that the weakening of democracy cannot be considered as something recent, as we are increasingly witnessing the resurgence of populist and authoritarian currents and their implementation in formerly democratic regimes, as seen in the victorious election of the Trump administration. in the United States of America (USA), in 2016, for example, or even in the great electoral expression that Marine Le Pen’s ultraconservative party, the Rassemblement National, obtained in the most recent French elections.

The situation in Ukraine, on the other hand, was triggered by the long-standing desire of Vladimir Putin, the current Russian president, to reunite what was once lost, the glory of the old Soviet Union. Faced with this desire, he found in the massive military offensive on Ukrainian territory the solution to this desire, which has lasted since the end of the Cold War, increasing with the consequent expansion of NATO’s power in Eastern Europe, interfering in the Soviet area of ​​influence, bringing discontent and apprehension to Moscow. In fact, Ukraine, which borders Russia, has, since 2008, a commitment to NATO for a possible membership, which sounded Russian alarms, recognizing there an opportunity for this international institution to attack Soviet values ​​and to implement western thought, by manipulating the population and turning it against Putin, isolating him from the outside and stripping him of his power and this cannot happen, according to his perspective.

The advent of Democracy in a divided International Order

The events that took place during the Second World War highlighted the importance of the existence of a State that safeguarded the interests and security of its population, as well as advocated its well-being and the maintenance of its rights. It would have to be a State that strived for democracy, that was free of authoritarianism and arbitrariness so that peace in the international order could materialize, and the most viable way for this to happen would be through the establishment of democracy that would expand to the entire System International (SI).

However, what are the necessary premises for democracy to exist? This issue is the subject of several attempts at definition by various IR authors, with emphasis, however, on the definition of it by David Beetham: “it is a way of making decisions based on rules and binding policies at the collective level and on over which the people exercise control, being the most democratic model where all members of the collective effectively enjoy the same rights to participate directly in decision-making.” In this sense, it is imperative to mention, within the field of International Relations theory, the emergence of the concept of democratic peace, popularized in the 1980s by Michael Doyle, who was inspired by Kant and his work “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Outline (1795)”. Briefly, this theory tries to explain the relations between two democratic States and the improbability of both entering a war or any type of activity that includes any recourse to violence. This idea, in addition to pervading the political level, also extends to the psychological dimension of government leaders, to the extent that dialogue with leaders of democratic states becomes easier, in contrast to authoritarian leaders, where the line that separates the dialogue from an offensive attitude is tenuous, which turns out to reveal instability and unpredictability when analyzing the actions of these leaders.

Faced with this panorama, and taking into account, simultaneously, the period in which these theories appear, in a period after the Second World War and in which the bipolar dynamics of the Cold War were experienced, it is understandable why these concepts arouse bigger interest in regions where freedom in democracy was a long-standing desire. The Non-Aligned Movement, for example, became, in this context, a message of hope to the people who were still under the yoke of authoritarian regimes, as they began to fall and governments began to be implanted with supposed demoliberal flags.

Not a very democratic democracy

Adopting the example of Ukraine as the subject matter, as of the fall of the Berlin Wall, this country, at this time part of a bigger group of countries under Russian dominance until then, was expected to adopt a new, more democratic, form of government. The possible democratisation of the regime would adjust itself to the new liberal-democracy standard that was spreading across the new international order post Cold War, distancing itself from the soviet autocratic intentions. Francis Fukuyama started to theorise such move, meaning that after the rise and transition dominance of autocratic regimes, they’d submit themselves to the victory of liberal-democracy aligned with the West’s perspective, that would expand across the globe, at least ideologically, meaning that liberalism dominance in the material world was yet to come: “(…) that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. (…) for the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet incomplete in the real or material world. But there are powerful reasons for believing that it is the ideal that will govern the material world in the long run.”

Faced with this juncture, Moscow never really freed Ukraine so that it could autonomously shape its form of government or establish any type of regime independent of Soviet will. In spite of not directly displaying its presence in Ukrainian decision-making, Russia always interfered with that process, constantly hiding in the shadows of a not so democratic democracy, since Russia lacks the essential characteristics of any democratic regime, mentioned earlier.

The stubbornness that launched the chaos in the International System

The attitude which just reeks of stubbornness and nostalgia of past glory, which no longer have a place in the present, promoted by Russia disturbed (successfully) the current International System’s order, to the point of causing the first major conflict in the European Continent since the Second World War.

The tension accumulated in the international order was established as of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, until then Ukrainian region, in 2014. Besides being a hit at International Law, this move managed to lift animosity between Russia, USA and United Kingdom, which wasn’t the case since the very end of the Cold War. Adding to this event, Russia decided to support the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk (both of which form the region known as Donbass), a major blow to sovereignty and integrity of Ukrainian territory, followed by the most recent direct invasion of Ukraine, this past February, resulting in an armed conflict in various fronts (ones being more direct than others), whose ending remains unknown.

In this context, many interpretations of the current Ukrainian war emerged, one of those being about the way in which it could’ve been avoided, if the West hadn’t been so rapid in setting aside the Soviet’s position in the new world order post Cold War, relegating the interest of the former Soviet Union to the background, which wasn’t the best decision that – and specially – the USA have made as the victorious party of the Cold War. The exclusion Russia suffered in the rearrangement of the new world order by the other States started to feed into Russian unrest, underestimated countless times until it was impossible to hide.

In fact, Chomsky, famous International Relations’ personality, mentions this position in an interview to Global Policy Journal, stating the following: “High administration officials don’t just concede that “prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the United States made no effort to address one of Vladimir Putin’s most often stated top security concerns — the possibility of Ukraine’s membership into NATO.” They praise themselves for having taken this position, which may well have been a factor in impelling Putin to criminal aggression”.

Henry Kissinger, however, believes the Ukrainian situation is interpreted as a problem between East and West, since there’s a confrontation as to which side Ukraine should join. Kissinger admits the best solution for Ukrainian survival and development would be building a bridge of sorts between both sides, in order to form an agreement free of prejudice and animosity:“Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them”.

The main takeaway from the paragraphs above is that the point of the question is to analyse the historical past that unites both Russian and Ukrainian nations, since it is inevitably connected, and not taking a rushed position amidst any political inclination. It’s essential to adopt a neutral and diplomatic perspective if the goal is to attempt to understand the dynamics of international relations, since the international system is wrapped around a network of connections and interdependence, and whose survival is only possible if diplomacy becomes the voice of reason.

It is equally fundamental to reevaluate the power of institutions as the United Nations or even the European Union, whose role in the draft of an efficient resolution relating to the war in Ukraine left a lot to be desired, corrupting, naturally, the reputation and past of these very institutions, as well as the security they’re obliged to display in an international order where danger’s right around the corner, waiting to drive democracy and the rule of law into political darkness once more.


(Monteiro, 2022)

(Pereira, 2007, p. 14)

(Dyachenko, O processo de consolidação democrática na Ucrânia: O papel da União Europeia, 2016, p. 118)

(Menand, 2018)

(Kirk, 2022)

(Kissinger, 2014)

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