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My Thoughts about Ukraine

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( – promoted by lowkell)

I do not claim to be an expert on the Ukrainian situation, but I have been following the story. And this I believe to be one aspect of what’s going on.

The Russians are already greatly impinging upon Ukraine in the eastern part, albeit in disguise. So it is a serious violation of another nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but it is not the invasion of one country by another. Yet.

The Ukrainians have no choice, if they are to defend the integrity of their nation, but to use force to reestablish its control over its own integrity by turning back the covert, partial Russian takeover of the eastern region. If the Ukrainian government in Kiev were to acquiesce, the battle would be forfeited and Russia would take the East as it has already taken Crimea.

On the other hand, there is reason to think that the Russians might not choose to impose their will be force: doing so would impose a cost to the Russians were they to send in an explicitly Russian force in mass. (Such an invasion, I am supposing, is what they would need to do to overcome Ukraine’s national forces after those forces had defeated the “insurgents” –including Russian agents and military.)

I myself would not bet on Putin being deterred by that cost in terms of international reputation. He is choosing to be seen as strong and tough. He is greatly pained by the loss of superpower status. Meanwhile, he’s willing to cast aside whatever concern he might once have cared about being seen as a decent guy to include in the international system. With this old KGB thug, he’d rather be feared than loved.

So, I’m worried for the Ukrainians in making this bet.

But hey, in a great many cultures, honor requires that one be willing to pay a price for one’s nation, and not just surrender pre-emptively. So the Ukrainians, whatever their assessment of the probabilities, are acting on the basis of hope.

This forceful Ukrainian action hands over the decision to a menacing Putin Regime, hoping that the Russians will choose not to cross that line.

The Russians know, I expect, that the invasion of Ukraine with Russian forces would transform the European perceptions of Russia in a non-trivial way. From taking a piece of Georgia back in 2008 to taking Crimea a month ago to then sending Russian forces in numbers over their borders– this escalation would cement the sense of Russia as a rogue nation endangering the world’s peace.

(By the way, it is times like this that I remember how painful it was to have an American regime, back in the disgraceful era of the launch of the Iraq war, that was seen for a while as a rogue nation, endangering the world’s peace.)

What a tragedy that Russia — emergent out of a communist, Soviet era after dark and painful decades of totalitarianism — has not been able to emerge into a politically healthy system. What a missed opportunity, it seems, for the Russians to get at last a benign regime based on the genuine will of the people.

What a tragedy that the United States, with its own conduct in recent years, does not have the moral authority it once did to condemn violations of the international order. The degradation of the international order feeds upon itself, and we have moved backwards in the past ten-plus years.

  • Another Scott

    Hi,

    I’m no expert on Ukraine, but have kept up with it a little.  I have a personal interest as my grad school adviser was born there, and I loved much of the Russian literature I read (in translation) in college.

    There are many things going on simultaneously in Ukraine.  There’s lots of overlapping history (read Tolstoy’s “Sebastapol Sketches” for a taste).  There’s Russia’s long history of disastrous foreign invasions (Napoleon, Hitler, etc.).  There’s Ukraine’s long history of oppression by the Russians (Stalin’s famines and purges).  There’s Russia’s understandable desire to be treated as a great power and to have a recognized “sphere of influence”.  And there’s Russia’s claimed sense of betrayal by the West in expanding NATO.

    There are lots of grievances that each “side” can point to.

    Given all that, it seems to me that what matters here is what the people of Ukraine want.  If the country as a whole thinks that the eastern provinces should be free to join Russia, then that’s fine.  But if the referendum is a sham, as it was in Crimea, then we should support the proposition that international boundaries should not be changed unilaterally.

    We shouldn’t get into a mindset that this is all about Putin wanting to reconstitute the Soviet Union (even if he does).  We need to think clearly about the implications for the international order and not be drawn into a “good vs. evil” frame of thinking.  We need to think clearly and rationally about what the end-game is and how to get there.  I’m encouraged that Obama and Kerry have taken a measured response thus far.  We don’t need another land war in Asia, and given the supply routes and the long, complex history in the region, we cannot impose a solution.  Sure, we could break lots of things, and kill lots of people, but we cannot impose a diplomatic solution.

    It’s a mess, and I fear it will continue to escalate into a bloodier mess before there is a solution or a ratcheting down of the tensions.  We also need to recognize our limitations.

    Perhaps the presidential elections there on May 25 will help illuminate a path forward.  Here’s hoping.

    My $0.02.

    Cheers,

    Scott.

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    While Putin has enhanced his popularity at home with his actions in the Crimea and in Ukraine, he is certainly damaging Russia in the long run. The largest customer for Russia’s gas and oil, the lifeblood of the Russian economy, is Europe. (Hence, their reluctance to impose extremely harsh sanctions and jeopardize their fragile economic recovery.) However, if Russia proves itself to be a force for instability, then Europe will begin to plan for other sources of energy, even if those sources are a few years away.. Additionally, Russia has made China very nervous with its Ukraine policy. Thus, it abstains from UN votes, rather than voting with Russia.  The last thing China wants is a world power next door talking about incorporating populations that want to leave their nation.

    In part, we are reaping the decisions in the Bush administration to place antimissile systems in Poland and to encourage the expansion of NATO up to Russia’s borders. Those actions obviously fed Putin’s paranoia about a new “containment” policy. We are also are severely hampered in calling out Russia about interfering in a sovereign nation after the decision to invade Iraq without it being a threat to our security.

    I agree that it is tragic that Russia rid itself of autocratic state communism and fell almost immediately into what some have called a “kleptocracy,” where the elite busies itself stealing everything it can. However, Russia has no history of even the semblance of democratic governance. Putin is just the latest strongman to rule the nation.

  • pvogel

    since  Putin  started  saber rattling,   the price  of  gas  has  gone  up  60  cents   a gallon