Ukraine was bankrupt. It needed money to keep its doors open. It received one offer from the EU. Then another, for more money, from Russia: $15bn, with no strings attached. Did that mean it would simply disappear, like all the funds before it? Did it signal a turn back to Russia, when the popular will, at least as displayed in the demonstrations in Kiev and the Western parts of the country, was to turn toward the new Europe?
For Washington, the upheaval in the capital's Maidan Square seemed to be another bright day as one more group of people who had been in the shadow of Soviet oppression made their way to the sunshine of Western freedom. The Western media praised the demonstrators and the incipient changes.
For Moscow, this was a pre-planned Western conspiracy; an attempt at bringing down another Russian ally and transforming another former republic of the Soviet Union into a Western satellite nation, a soon-to-be NATO member at Russia's doorstep.
Demonstrations turned to rioting. Then a deal was made. The power of the president would be lessened. There would be new elections in just a few months. But less than a day later, Viktor Yanukovich was gone. Was it an abdication? Or was it a putsch?
To the KGB officer who now runs Russia, the Western plot was just too close to the motherland to be tolerated. Russia took over Crimea, a piece of Ukraine that had often been part of Russia.
Did that moment mark the end of the post-Cold War period? According to various politicians and commentators the answer was yes. Some predicted that the Cold War was back. Some spoke of Nazis and fascists - on both sides. Was it a violation of international law? A provocation? An improvised confrontation? Brutality? Or was it a mere strategy?
Empire chose to begin the conversation about language, perception and politics at the legendary Soviet era themed KGB bar in New York with two Russian experts, Yanni Kotsonis from New York University and Vladimir Golstein from Brown University. And we continue it along the lines of strategic thinking in Moscow and Washington with Amy Knight, an historian of the Soviet Union and Russia, and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern.
To complete the picture, Empire debated the European viewpoints at the Goethe Institut in Washington, DC with Miodrag Soric from the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, and Stephen Szabo from the Transatlantic Academy.
And finally, we chose to round up the discussion at a New York City landmark the Russian Tea Room, where we spoke to Padma Desai, an economist at Columbia University, John Mearsheimer, an international relations theorist at the University of Chicago, and Jack Matlock, a former US ambassador to the Soviet Union, about the global ramifications of the Ukrainian crisis.
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