Ukraine conflict’s Cold War roots

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

Vitali Klitschkow leads the anti-government forces in the Ukraine.

As the Olympics get fired up in Sochi, it’s incredible to think that a little over 22 years ago, Russia was just one of many countries belonging to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR. From 1922 to 1991, the USSR competed with the US in a Cold War of economic and political wills that almost led to global nuclear war.

However, the USSR’s ruling Communist Party was troubled by corrupt leaders and widespread poverty, leading to an eventual separation into what is now 15 Post-Soviet states. Despite the breakup, many of the countries kept close links with Russia. The Ukraine, in particular, has become the center of a political tug-of-war between the European Union and Russia, as each side tries to save the struggling nation from financial collapse.

It certainly doesn’t help that the country is literally geographically sandwiched between Europe and Russia! When President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an economic deal from Europe in November, he accepted Russia’s $15 billion offer, leading to massive anti-government protests. Why? Because not all Ukrainians remember the days of USSR brotherhood with Russia all that fondly.

Klitschko brothers
Vitali and his brother, Wladimir, holding all of their major championship belts.

Now, opposition forces are demanding that the president’s power be restricted, while increasing the influence of parliament, which is run by elected representatives – kind of like the US Congress.

The opposition is called the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, or UDAR for short, which means “punch” in Ukrainian. And… who better to lead the party than professional heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, a man whose towering height of 6 feet and 7 inches strikes fear into his opponents?

This burly bruiser also has the honor of being the first professional boxing world champion to hold a PhD degree, so his mind is just as quick as his fists! The man won more than 87 percent of his fights with a knockout, was never knocked out himself in a professional fight, speaks multiple languages, and may have even been a debt collector for a major mafia boss in the 1990s. Should President Yanukovych be worried? After all, he’s facing down a physical and intellectual giant with the nickname “Dr. Ironfist”! It’ll be fascinating to watch how it all plays out, and whether Europe or Russia will win the mini-Cold War chess match between “Dr. Ironfist” and President Yanukovych.

Featured image courtesy of PBS NewsHour on YouTube. Image of Vitali Klitschkow leading the Ukrainians courtesy of Mstyslav Chernov on Wikipedia .