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Ukraine: A fight for economic freedom

Margaret Thatcher once said: "There can be no liberty without economic liberty."

I've always thought that statement referred to the individual, but it's true for nation-states as well. And right now the whole world is watching the dramatic and violent struggle for economic freedom on the streets of Kiev.

Count me among the many who hope the latest truce in Ukraine holds and the disputes between the anti-government protesters and the ruling party are resolved peacefully and democratically.


Anti-government protesters guard the perimeter of Independence Square, known as Maidan, on February 19, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine.
Getty Images
Anti-government protesters guard the perimeter of Independence Square, known as Maidan, on February 19, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine.

But no matter what happens politically, this story remains an economic conflict through and through. And that's why it's truly a CNBC story.

Ukraine and all the other smaller states that broke off from Russia when the USSR collapsed began around 25 years ago, right around the same time CNBC was born. And their development from fledgling governments into real sovereign societies has been one of the more compelling macroeconomic stories in this network's history.

(Read more: The 'quiet billionaires' shaping Ukraine's future)

CNBC has always focused on giving our viewers the information and tools to invest wisely, but we shouldn't forget that the struggle to gain the simple freedom to participate in any kind of economy is still unfolding right in front of our cameras.

Remember back to that time: Every day, it seemed like another former Soviet bloc country was breaking free of the "Iron Curtain." The running headline in the New York Times was "Clamor in the East" for what seemed like three solid years.

And just as those nations were gaining democratic freedom, CNBC was trying to democratize business and stock-market news for millions of American investors.

But in both Eastern Europe and in the American financial game, we're still fighting for a truly level playing field.

(Graphic video: Protesters attack police in Kiev)

The revolution that began in 1989 in Ukraine may have seen its political climax in 1991 with the official establishment of the new state. But the economic war of independence is raging now.

With Russia's boot heel firmly on Ukraine's energy and other crucial markets, it has never truly tasted economic freedom. Its people want to throw their lot in with the European Union, a flawed body to be sure, but one that offers Ukraine much more opportunity than a nation run by Vladimir Putin ever will.

Think of this as an analogy: the United States of America was officially born in 1776, and won its political sovereignty by winning the Revolutionary War in 1783. But it wasn't until the Americans won the War of 1812 that our economic freedom was secured in the ports and on the high seas. That was when we were finally able to assert our true independence as something other than the potential client state of France or Great Britain.

(Read more: Iran stocks are booming, and nuclear talks are why)

Remember that word from college political science class, "hegemony?" In addition to being a word that was sure to get you at least partial credit if you threw it into the essay section of your midterm, hegemony is one of those words college professors like to toss around a lot, usually when they're saying something dubiously bad about the USA and its relations with South or Latin America.

But the hegemony Russia has imposed on Ukraine and other neighbors is the real deal. And while some people may be relieved that this latest world conflict has nothing to do with religion, terrorism, or ancient land disputes, this is a major conflict just the same. And the desire for freedom, even if it's "just economic freedom" is just as virtuous.

(Read more: Russia and Japan—an example of peaceful commerce in Asia?)

— By Jake Novak

Jake Novak is supervising producer of "The Kudlow Report." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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