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The Ukrainian Crisis and the Echoes of the Cold War

24/02/2014 11:18 GMT | Updated 23/04/2014 10:59 BST

Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

As denim-clad Germans amassed on both sides of the border, tearing the down the greatest symbol of their oppression to the tune of blaring Trabant horns, an uplifting display of national reacquaintance declared the end of the Cold War. Or so it seemed. Travel to any local library today seeking out an educational account of the Cold War, and it is highly likely that the narrative will come to an abrupt end between 1989 and 1991. In those turbulent two years, as revolution swept aside the communist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe that had stood since the Second World War, the collapse of the Soviet Union imbued in many a sense that a new era had begun.

Yet the echoes of the Cold War have displayed their resonance remarkably in recent years. A bloody war in Chechnya to see in the new millennium, and an ongoing political and territorial dispute with Georgia - one which escalated quickly into a brief yet all-too-soon forgotten war in 2008 - are just two of countless examples of a post-Cold War Russia struggling to adapt to its new skin. The transition from communism - not only a political doctrine but a way of life, an ideology, and a means of perceiving one's world - was never expected to be an easy one, and so it has proved.

Even now, as the eyes of the world focus on the bitter struggle for power in Ukraine, the historical parallels with the Cold War appear more than simple coincidence. A nation that secured its independence barely a generation past, the Ukraine crisis epitomises the Eastern European struggle to rid itself of the memory of its communist fetters. President Yanukovych's rejection of an EU accord in November 2013 proved the flame to the combustible atmosphere that has been brewing in the country amidst economic stagnation, social dislocation and political disillusionment. The government's preference for closer ties with Moscow and President Putin has been widely criticised by political opponents and protestors who see greater integration into the European market economy as the solution to Ukraine's current dilemmas.

Reading reports over the last few weeks, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Cold War has resumed in all but name. The violence beamed across the airwaves has been truly shocking. On 20th February 2014 alone, 21 protestors were reportedly killed and 67 riot policemen captured by the rebels as Kiev seemed to be descending into Civil War. The Cold War parallels are all too readily apparent. Bullets that now rain down upon the opposition forces in the nation's capital fell too in Berlin in 1953, as Soviet forces moved in to brutally suppress an uprising led by disenchanted workers. The make-shift molotov cocktails that pelt down upon the Ukrainian state police are similarly reminiscent of those thrown by the youthful protesters of the Prague Spring in 1968; whilst the mass of flag-waving, peaceful demonstrations that characterised the earlier protest movement in Ukraine contained eerie hallmarks of those in East Germany as the communist regime collapsed in 1989.

Of course, the Cold War, as it was, is no more. There is a reason why it has largely been consigned to the history books. The United States and the Soviet Union (quite apart from the latter's dissolution in 1991) no longer eyeball each other in stolen glances through a thick iron curtain. Yet the echoes reverberate still. As government and opposition forces, pressured by a determined vote to place sanctions on the Ukraine if fighting continues, thrash out an attempt to restore peace, the Cold War parallels seem to extend even further. A Ukrainian nation still largely reliant on the political assistance and economic assurances deriving from close ties with Moscow must in time decide on its future course. As rebels and riot police bury their dead, and wait anxiously for the declaration of peace, reform, or order, Ukraine appears to be approaching the most crucial juncture in its short independent history since 1991.

Beneath the pallid smog of billowing smoke that hangs above Independence Square in Kiev, the belligerents of the civil war pause for breath in a conflict that few can be sure will not resume. If it does, the rebels that hide behind their barricades, and the state forces that try to haul them down, may discover that - beneath the burnt-out tyres, barrels, and rubble - the unexpected weight of history lies very much alive and unwell.